Hockey legend Cassie Campbell-Pascall opens up about the importance of sport — even during a pandemic.
For Cassie Cambell-Pascall, hockey is more than just a career. She recently spoke with Lisa Ferkul, Director of Hockey Sponsorship at Scotiabank, on the return of the NHL, supporting women’s hockey, and the new documentary she’s featured in, Hockey 24 — highlighting stories of community hockey from across Canada.
With NHL training camps set to start on July 10, hockey fans are excitedly getting closer to the return of a season that was put on hold nearly four months ago. But to equate Canada’s official national winter sport with just the NHL would be selling it short — it’s more than one league, and to many, it goes far deeper than just armchair entertainment.
Cassie Campbell-Pascall would certainly agree on both counts. One of the most successful and recognized players in women’s hockey, she won 21 medals with Canada’s National Women’s team, including six golds at the World Championships, and two Olympic gold medals while captain — the only Canadian hockey captain, male or female, to achieve that feat.
Since retiring in 2006, she’s kept her focus on the game — as a broadcaster for Sportsnet’s Hockey Night in Canada (and the first woman to do colour commentary on the show), and a Scotiabank Teammate, acting as an ambassador to the organization.
She recently checked in with Lisa Ferkul, Director of Hockey Sponsorship at Scotiabank. Over the eight years, they’ve worked together on programs like Scotiabank Hockey Day in Canada — where they annually coach side-by-side — Scotiabank Girls HockeyFest, and the Scotiabank Community Hockey Sponsorship Program, their business relationship has developed into a friendship, built on a mutual love of the good ol’ hockey game.
LF: I know we’re here to talk about hockey, but let me start by asking: how has this pandemic been for you? How have you and your family been coping?
CCP: I would say for the first three weeks, I took advantage of a mandated break that I probably would have never taken for myself. I was just coming into the busiest time of my season, where I was heading off to the Women’s World Championship and then I was going to go straight into the Stanley Cup playoffs. Then all of a sudden this hit, and you’re told to stay home. And so for three weeks, I kind of went off the grid — I didn’t do anything on social media, I spent time with my family, got jobs done around the house, and became a homeschool teacher, like every other parent out there that has their kids at home.
And then you start to think, this is serious, people have lost their lives. I made a list of things I could do. I started a program called #JoinTheMovement, where we just try to get people to get active across the country. I supported Ronald McDonald House in Calgary — I’m an ambassador for RMHC — by buying meals with my family. I’ve had my great days and I’ve had my really hard days, where you’re scared and you wonder, is life going to ever be normal again?
LF: Yeah, the biggest thing for me is keeping perspective. I feel lucky that no one in my immediate circle has been severely impacted by the virus. And I’m very fortunate to work for Scotiabank — the bank has been extremely supportive of its employees. I wasn’t travelling as much as you were for work, but I had a pretty busy professional and social calendar, so I’ve been finding that this has been a time to slow down as well. But I do miss going to hockey games.
CCP: Well, we know the NHL is coming back, but there’s so much we still don’t know. I mean, they have a plan that they’ve set out, but it all kind of depends on everything. For me, as a broadcaster, I don’t know whether I’ll be live at the venue, or broadcasting from a studio in Toronto, or from home here in Calgary.
The one thing I can say for sure is we want the teams to play for the Stanley Cup. I believe hockey, and sport in general, can really help people get through this. I’m hoping it comes back sooner than later.
LF: I totally agree. Hockey matters to Canadians. And by that, I mean hockey right down to the community level, right down to the kids starting out. You were seven when you first started playing, right?
CCP: Yes, and when I started, I think like so many young girls of my generation, it was because I had an older brother who played, and I wanted to be just like him. There wasn’t a girls’ league or minor women’s hockey at the time. I’d go to the rink and I’d be playing mini-stick hockey in the corner with some tape balls and all the other siblings. Finally, I just said to my parents, ‘Why can’t I play?’ They were worried about me getting picked on, but they let me play and I loved it so much.
I loved it so much that I didn’t listen to the people that I heard, loud and clear, say ‘Girls shouldn’t play hockey’ as I walked into the rink. I loved it enough to ignore being made fun of and just kind of store those things in the back of my brain. And when I made my first Olympic team, those things kind of came out, like, that’s kind of funny you said that.
You’re a lot younger than me, but I know you played hockey growing up, and you still probably were told that as a girl you shouldn’t play.
LF: Yeah, I don’t know about a lot younger, but I did have the opportunity to play girls’ hockey, whereas when you started out you were playing with the boys and there weren’t many women hockey players to look up to. Fortunately, that’s changed.
CCP: I think it’s been so important that people like you are in positions of strength at organizations like Scotiabank, because you fight for us behind the scenes, and fight to make women’s hockey just as much a part of the branding and marketing plans. I think that’s what has changed.
“And I think for me, I get to sit in NHL arenas all the time, and call NHL games, and I’ve played at the highest level of women’s hockey, and sometimes you just forget about what hockey is really about — which is our kids.”
LF: Well, at Scotiabank we really believe that hockey is for everybody, and that we need to do our part to make it inclusive to everyone — which is such a great segue into Scotiabank’s Hockey 24. This documentary that we put together — with help from award-winning filmmakers, Scotiabank Teammates like you, and a lot of Canadians — is really about how community hockey in Canada isn’t just one story, it’s millions of stories.
CCP: It’s such an important message, and I’m so glad I was able to be a part of it. The day it was all filmed on, November 17, is my daughter’s birthday, and we were participating in the Scotiabank Girls HockeyFest here in Calgary, and she was there with all her current teammates from this year and a bunch from last year, and she was just so excited.
And I think for me, I get to sit in NHL arenas all the time, and call NHL games, and I’ve played at the highest level of women’s hockey, and sometimes you just forget about what hockey is really about — which is our kids. And it’s not only about trying to make some great players, but I think you want to try and make them great people, and this documentary really showed that hockey has the power to do that.
LF: I don’t know if you know the background, but originally Hockey 24 was set to premiere during Hot Docs, an international documentary film festival here in Toronto. And when isolation was imposed and the live festival was cancelled, we called our friends at Sportsnet to release it on broadcast on May 24 — in the middle of a pandemic, in the absence of the game we love on the ice.
CCP: Well, I think when it was released, I think people needed it. People needed to share in these messages of adversity and how people overcame them through hockey. Those were the stories that I was looking forward to seeing, which don’t often get told. And I think with Hockey 24, to have those grassroots stories told by Canadians and produced by Canadians — I mean, it’s something that’s never been done before, so I was definitely excited to be part of it that day, and then to see the final product.
LF: Yeah, I couldn’t agree more. There were so many inspiring stories — like the stories of Nicole, or Ainslie — that really conveyed how hockey is more than just a sport.
CCP: And I’ve seen that in the other work I do with Scotiabank’s hockey initiatives. About a half-dozen times, I’ve had the opportunity to meet some of the kids I taught at Scotiabank Girls HockeyFest back when it started, 15 years ago, who are now coming back as an instructor for the program.
That’s really powerful to me because that means she’s come through Scotiabank Girls HockeyFest as a six or seven year old, she’s found a love of the game, she saw a role model in someone who played on the national team or at a high level, and she just kept loving this game. Right through those teenage years when it gets tough, right through those years when you’re going off to university and you have no idea what you’re going to do and no idea what you’re going to take, but you know you’re going to play hockey — and it kind of grounds you through that. And then you’re back at this program that helped influence you at a young age, and I find that cycle very powerful. I know we lose a lot of girls at the age of 12 to 14 in sport for a variety of reasons. And so to see that evolution of a young player, to have met her a long time ago and then see her again and who she’s become as a person, who she’s become as a leader, those are some powerful moments. That’s when you realize you’ve had an impact, you’ve made a difference.
That’s why, with Scotiabank, to support the women’s game as much as you have behind the scenes, I can’t even thank you enough. The impact that this company has had on women’s hockey is second to nobody. I know it sounds corporate and cliché, but it’s true — I’ve worked with a lot of different companies over the years where I’m there as the token woman, and I’ve never been made to feel like that here. So I just want to thank you for being you, and for pushing things behind the scenes, and for being a great friend.
LF: Well I’m going to echo the same sentiment. Thank you for being a Teammate, confidante, and such a dear friend.