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Hockey was ‘therapy’ for Ingrid Connors

While fighting ovarian cancer, Ingrid Connors still played hockey as much as she could. She described it as therapy.
While fighting ovarian cancer, Ingrid Connors still played hockey as much as she could. She described it as therapy. - Contributed

Connors died June 28 after a battle with cancer, and was buried wearing her favourite hockey jersey

Ingrid Connors’ hockey jersey flashed the Number 10 as she soared across the ice week after week in a St. John’s rink while playing the game she loved.

She’d eagerly pulled her jersey on over long-used and visibly worn shoulder pads, her experience and leadership in the dressing room a comfort to teammates during a playoff run.

Connors’ love of Canada’s game and the friendships she developed through it over the years inspired everyone around her.

Connors died two weeks ago at age 58 after a long and tough battle with ovarian cancer.

She was buried with her hockey stick next to her, and in a Team Canada hockey jersey — one she cherished because it was signed by two of her favourite Canadian hockey stars, Cassie Campbell and Bobby Orr.

Connors’ love of Canada’s game and the friendships she developed through it over the years inspired everyone around her.

At her funeral, upon request in her obituary, teammates and friends wore their jerseys to the service. Even the day after she had died, they held a memorial game in her honour.

Connors, they were sure, was smiling down from above.

Connors had played in the Eastern Edge Women’s Recreational Hockey League that dates back to 1999. But Connors’ start in hockey goes back much further, at least to the early 1970s, her family recalls.

Teammates wear their jerseys to Ingrid Connors’ funeral. Connors loved the game of hockey and played it for much of her life, inspiring many other women to join.
Teammates wear their jerseys to Ingrid Connors’ funeral. Connors loved the game of hockey and played it for much of her life, inspiring many other women to join.

Her daughter, Ashley Harding, who played with her mother in the Eastern Edge league for one year — and played alongside her in ball hockey as well — said their whole family was involved in hockey.

“She always said she wanted her, me and Brooke (Ashley’s daughter) to play in a game together — three generations — but the timing just didn’t work out,” Ashley said. “When Brooke started playing, Mom couldn’t anymore.”

Connors was dedicated to the sport. She played on the national stage in tournaments in 1983 in Brantford, Ont., and in 1984 in Alberta. In 1985 she was pregnant with Ashley and couldn’t go.

But when Ashley was old enough, mother and daughter would team up. Together they attended the national ball hockey championships.

“In 2003 we went away to Montreal playing in the ball hockey nationals, and in 2004 we went to Toronto for the nationals,” Ashley said. “We were always in the B division and we got silver each year, losing to the Mount Pearl team. We used to say we had to go all the way to the mainland to lose to the Mount Pearl team. But it was fun.”

Ashley said her mother was part of a group that started a St. John’s women’s hockey league in the late 1980s. After that league folded, Connors and her friends kept playing until momentum built again to start the Eastern Edge league.

"She was buried with her hockey stick, too, because wherever she is now she’ll need that hockey stick.” — Ingrid's daughter Ashley Harding

According to its website, the Eastern Edge Women’s Recreational Hockey League is a non-contact ice hockey league for adult women in St. John’s. The league was started in 1999 by a small group of women and was officially formed in 2000 consisting of four teams. Today the league has grown to 10 teams, with a waiting list of players eager to get in.

The website also carries a tribute to Connors: “Unfortunately Ingrid Connors, Number 10, lost her battle with ovarian cancer last week. And what a battle it was. Strong right to the end. She was surrounded by her close friends and family and comforted by the fact that the room she was assigned at palliative care was Number 10. She will rest in peace, undoubtedly.”

Ashley said her mother first noticed something was wrong on a family trip to Florida in 2015 — Brooke’s first visit to Disney World. After chemo and surgery, Connors was confident she could beat the disease, and she did for awhile, even returning to play hockey.

But the cancer came back.

“Maybe a month or so ago, she said, ‘I don’t think I’ll be here in a month,’” Ashley said. “Around the mid-’90s there was a Chevy camp for kids in the Goulds and Cassie Campbell and Bobby Orr were there and signed the jersey.

“She loved the jersey and often spoke about the time she met Cassie Campbell and Bobby Orr. And she was buried with her hockey stick, too, because wherever she is now she’ll need that hockey stick.”

In 2016, friend Wanita Bates did a photo shoot with members of the league and asked each player to describe what hockey meant to them in one word.

The word Connors chose was “therapy,” Bates said.

Ingrid Connors
Ingrid Connors

Close friend and fellow hockey player Deb Thomas said Connors was a one-of-a-kind person who convinced her to play hockey. They played ice hockey, ball hockey and softball together.

Thomas said the women’s hockey community is very close and no one exemplified that closeness more than Connors.

“Ingrid was playing before the league was incorporated. She had played with boys before there was women’s hockey to play,” Thomas said. “In fact, after she was diagnosed with cancer, she kept playing, and came back playing after surgery.”

Thomas described Connors as a quiet leader in the dressing who other players looked to for inspiration during a playoff run. On the ice, she was always one of the best players, but never took things too seriously.

“She was a playmaker and a team player, and was a fast, natural skater and had a snappy, accurate wrist shot,” Thomas said. “Ingrid lived for the after-game beer and the chit-chat in the dressing room that always ensued there. When the team lists came out every year she was always looking to be on a fun team, not a winning team. But don't get me wrong, she loved to win, too.”

When Connors died, Thomas decided to try to get a message through to Cassie Campbell (now Cassie Campbell-Pascall) — once captain of the Canadian women's national hockey team and who led Canada to two Olympic gold medals (2002 and 2006) and who is now a broadcaster with Sportsnet.

Thomas said that given it was the Canada Day weekend she didn’t expect an answer, at least not right away.

"I know that Ingrid is a ‘true pioneer’ in the women’s game, as she gave more to the game by simply loving it and giving back to Eastern Edge Hockey long before it was even incorporated." — Cassie Campbell-Pascall, former Team Canada captain

What she did receive, however, was a touching personal message from Campbell-Pascall written on Canada Day.

“I want to first thank Deb Thomas for reaching out to me and tracking me down to be part of such a celebration of life,” Campbell-Pascall wrote.

“It sounds like she was a dear friend and extremely proud to call Ingrid a friend. I want to give Randy, Ashley, Peter and the entire family all the hugs in the world during such a difficult time from my home in Calgary. I write this to you on Canada Day, and it only seems fitting as I hear Ingrid will be wearing a Canadian jersey as she heads above to watch over us all, and make sure that we continue to make this world a better place in her honour.

Ingrid Connors (right) and daughter Ashley Harding suit up to play against each other some years ago.
Ingrid Connors (right) and daughter Ashley Harding suit up to play against each other some years ago.

“I was honoured to hear that the jersey she is wearing is mine. Many of us who make the national team are often associated with the word pioneer, but I know that Ingrid is a ‘true pioneer’ in the women’s game, as she gave more to the game by simply loving it and giving back to Eastern Edge Hockey long before it was even incorporated. She played and loved the game never wanting anything in return, but because she seemed to be just proud to help it grow and get to the next level.

“At this time I send all my prayers Newfoundland’s way! May you celebrate this great country knowing that Ingrid lived to the best of her abilities and that she loved you all dearly. Once again, hearing that she is wearing my jersey as she is laid to rest has to be something that has made me extremely proud to be Canadian, and I only hope I can give back to the game of hockey like Ingrid did.”

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