Hockey Gael golden for Canada

Cassie Sparks stars in inaugural ball hockey world championship

Cassie Sparks, seen here in an OUA game against the Waterloo Warriors, will bring her international experience back to Queen’s this fall.
Cassie Sparks, seen here in an OUA game against the Waterloo Warriors, will bring her international experience back to Queen’s this fall.
Photo courtesy of Michael Parkinson

On June 9, Queen’s ice hockey player Cassie Sparks and the rest of the Canadian ball hockey team won gold medals at the first women’s world championship in Ratingen, Germany. Canada defeated Slovakia 2-0 in the gold medal game.

Sparks, who’s going into her third season with the Gaels this fall, said she was elated to get the chance to play on the national team.

“It was really exciting. To get the chance to represent Canada in any kind of sport is a great honour. It was just a really cool experience.” For Sparks, a big part of the thrill was getting to meet other hockey players from across the country.

“It was exciting because there were girls I’ve never met before, from all across Canada, selected for this team. ... Before the tournament, we hadn’t even come together as a team yet. We got there on the Sunday, and the tournament started on the Thursday, so we practiced Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday as a team, because we had never seen each other or played with each other before.”

Sparks said she wasn’t sure what to expect going in.

“I was nervous, and I didn’t know what to expect, but I wouldn’t say that I expected to win gold.”

Sparks normally excels on the ice as a forward for the Gaels, but only started ball hockey recently.

“I started playing ball hockey about three years ago. Last year, my team from Oshawa went to nationals, which was held in Montreal, and I guess they were using the nationals as a scouting ground for players,” she said. “A couple girls and I from my Oshawa team were selected to play on Team Canada, as well as a bunch of girls from different teams.”

The tournament featured six teams: Austria, Canada, the Czech Republic, Germany, Slovakia and the United States. Each team played one match against each of the other countries, and the two teams with the best records met in the final.

On the first day of the tournament, Canada defeated the Americans 3-0, with Sparks scoring the team’s second goal. She got her second goal only hours later in the first period of Canada’s 9-0 thrashing of Austria.

The Canadian team went on to defeat the Germans, tie the Czechs, and beat the Slovaks, setting up the Canada-Slovakia final. Canada only allowed one goal in the tournament, which came in the 1-1 draw with the Czechs.

Sparks played a large role in her team’s success. Her two goals and three assists meant she finished tied for third in team scoring and tied for fifth in tournament scoring.

Sparks said ball hockey is quite a change for someone used to playing ice hockey.

“It’s not as rough as ice hockey, but cardio-wise, ball hockey is kind of ridiculous, because you’re running on a rink. When we were in Germany, we were playing on the Olympic-sized ice surface, so we were running the length of the rink and that’s really tiring.”

Sparks added she would like to compete for Canada again in ball hockey.

“Going to Germany gives me a good chance of being selected for the next team. I think the next championships is being held in Prague, so that would be really cool to go.”

The players are expected to pay their own way, however, which Sparks said poses a bit of an obstacle.

“There really isn’t any funding that goes along, so I had to pay for most of the trip. It is quite expensive, but it’s a really cool experience as well, so I would like to be involved in it again, but we’ll see what happens in the future.”

Sparks said her experience in Germany will help her be a leader for the Gaels next year.

“I’m going to be the captain of the team next year, so it will be interesting to tell them some of the outlooks that the older girls had, because, I think, being involved with people older than me, I really learned a lot from them,” she said.

“The speeches that they were making, and the leadership, and the [team-building] games we were playing, I would definitely take to the Queen’s team.”

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