Returning for season two with the Calgary Inferno

Last year,  I embarked on new and unfamiliar territory when I put on a headset to be the play-by-play voice of the Calgary Inferno of the Canadian Women’s Hockey League.

Calgary Inferno - 2016/2017 season

WinSport – Arena A of the Markin MacPhail Centre during warm-up ahead of an Inferno game. (Sandra Prusina)

For as long as I can remember, I wanted to call hockey games. It seemed like a pipe dream though. Everyone in Canada wanted to do hockey play-by-play and combine that with being a woman, reality set in that it would never happen.

I’ve been in broadcasting and journalism for nearly a decade and while I greatly enjoy my radio career and the travels I’ve had to three Olympics, the yearning for being the voice of a hockey team was always in the back of my mind. It was an honour to receive a message from the CWHL asking if I wanted to be involved with the Inferno.

I studied the players and the teams, but that wasn’t enough preparation for the task at hand. Even though hockey is a fast game, I had to learn that trying to speak all the time wasn’t doing me or the viewers any favours. Many years ago, a journalism instructor taught me that when communicating, make what you say poignant and make it count. It took me awhile to adapt that to my play-by-play style. Oh, and if I had a nickel for every time I said “the ice” or “the zone” in my first few broadcasts, I’d be a rich girl.

I’ll also be the first to admit that I struggled with some name pronunciations. In particular, I feel bad for then-rookie Iya Gavrilova, whose last name I must’ve said differently each time. Her family watching back home in Russia likely cringed.

It took me the whole season to figure out what was easiest for me in terms of numbers and names. While I knew the Calgary players, I had to quickly adapt to the other teams. Holding my roster sheet during calling the game was a guide, almost a safety blanket, and I was okay with that. It made me feel comfortable.

While I did receive mostly positive feedback at season’s end, I wondered what was in the cards for the future. There were on-air blunders, many of which I recall vividly. Would the Inferno call me back? How did the CWHL feel? The summer rolled on and I came to the realization that this was likely going to be a ‘one and done’ situation. Even if it was, I was grateful to live out a dream I had since I was a little girl: I was the voice of a professional hockey team playing out of an incredible facility at WinSport’s Markin McPhail Centre – home of Hockey Canada.

It was a thrill last week to receive an email from the new general manager of the Inferno asking if I wanted to come back for the 2017-2018 season. With it being an Olympic year, there will be a lot to learn and I’m ready to embrace that challenge.

Calgary Inferno - 2016/2017 season

My first season as the voice of the Calgary Inferno of the Canadian Women’s Hockey League. (Sandra Prusina)



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Has it really been four years?

A quick glance at the calendar this morning and I saw July 23rd. Four years ago on this date, I was already fully entrenched in my London Olympic experience. I had finally figured out the Tube and how to get from our residence to Olympic Park. I also experienced Marks & Spencer for the first time since my childhood (There were a couple of Marks & Spencer stores in Calgary during the late 1980s and early 1990s). The delicious assortment of chocolate goodies and fresh cookies hadn’t changed.

London 2012 (from my iPhone)

London 2012 (from my iPhone)

Exploring London after work will always be some of my non-sports highlights of the trip, although sports always somehow did seem to creep into sight-seeing. One night while headed to the Tower Bridge with my friend from Germany, Felix, we noticed a throng of people circling a very, very tall man. I compare it to a scene from Hollywood, where the paparazzi is after the latest shot of the most popular celebrity. Instead, these were tourists, overwhelmed with excitement at being next to the giant. As Felix and I got closer to the mob, we recognized it was Chinese basketball phenom, Yao Ming. At 7′ 6″, he actually had to duck his head, while walking through the Tower Bridge, all the while trying to maneuver through the Beatles-like crowd that was following him.

More exploring took us to Covent Garden in Piccadilly Circus, which reminded me of New York’s Times Square with all the billboard advertisements and the buzz of the crowd. Another night, we headed over the Buckingham Palace. I remember being surprised at how quiet it was. Of course, there was plenty of security, but I figured there would be tourists around. Instead, it was just my friend Felix and I and a quick check of the timestamp on my camera says 10:42 p.m. I remember turning to him and saying, “I wonder what the Queen is doing right now?” as I pointed to Buckingham. Felix’s answer? “She’s probably on Facebook.”

Days at the broadcasting centre were entertaining. One mid-morning, as I walked to our newsroom, I looked over and noticed a familiar face: John McEnroe. The tennis legend was working for NBC as an analyst and I remember thinking to myself how unsuspecting he looked. He was carrying what looked like to be a homemade lunch in a plastic grocery bag and he was dressed in a tracksuit. A few hours later on that same day, a massive group had gathered outside out newsroom. Because our newsroom had glass walls, you could see everything that was going on around us. There was Prince Harry, looking over the facility and taking the tour. It surprised me at how normal it seemed because a year ago Prince William and his wife Catherine were in Calgary as part of their Royal Tour, and the fanfare that surrounded them was something like I’d never seen.

Screen Shot 2016-07-23 at 9.28.42 AMFor the past month or so, I’ve been working on a large women’s soccer project with members of the 2012 Canadian team that won bronze in London. They’ve shared some of their memories of the historic tournament with me and as a result, memories of my 30 days in the United Kingdom have come flooding back.

As I wait for the 2016 Olympics to begin, I smile and look back fondly on my time in London. Sports-wise, it changed my career and brought me down a different path I never really imagined. I also saw sights and sounds I had only dreamed of growing up. Whenever I hear “Good Life” by OneRepublic, I’m taken back to the summer of 2012:

Woke up in London yesterday
Found myself in the city near Piccadilly
Don’t really know how I got here
I got some pictures on my phone

New names and numbers that I don’t know
Address to places like Abbey Road
Day turns to night, night turns to whatever we want
We’re young enough to say

Oh this has gotta be the good life
This has gotta be the good life
This could really be a good life, good life

Say oh, got this feeling that you can’t fight
Like this city is on fire tonight
This could really be a good life
A good, good life

What an honour to have been there as a Canadian journalist.

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Professional women’s soccer on the horizon in Calgary

Foothills WFC first practice - April 16th 2015

Foothills WFC first practice – April 16th 2015

A year ago, I never thought a professional women’s soccer team in our city would be possible. I chalked it up to lack of interest and had basically resigned to the fact that it was just a pipe dream. I looked at other North American cities with envy. Why is a city like Calgary, with a population of a 1.2 million plus and a massive number of registered players, struggling with that next step of soccer?

Things have now changed.

Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know the driving forces behind Calgary Foothills SC. The group is working hard to embark on the goal of bringing professional women’s soccer to Calgary. They are fielding a squad this summer for an exhibition season to prepare for a debut in the W-League for 2016.

The roster consists of players from the ages of 16 to 30. Some have represented Canada at U-17 and U-20 Women’s World Cups, while others have completed storied college careers south of the border.

The skill set is nothing short of impressive. I had the opportunity to observe their first practice session and was floored at the talent. It’s inspiring to see the amount of passion going into this project by the players, coaching staff and management. When I left that evening, I realized something special was on the horizon.

It’s going to be an exciting ride.

Follow Foothills WFC on Twitter for the latest on their exhibition season.


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Tough reality lies ahead with Diana Matheson’s injury

Embed from Getty Images

It’s been awhile since I wrote any sort of editorial piece. That changed this week when I received a tweet, which has since been deleted, stating the loss of Diana Matheson to an ACL injury wouldn’t be “that big of a deal”. Someone must’ve had second thoughts, because before I had a chance to respond, the message was gone.

You know that old saying “you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone”? This situation is a perfect example. When someone is reliable for so many years, aka over a decade, you never really think about the day they’ll no longer be in that starting 11. You just assume they always will.

To more recent fans of the team, she’s known as a Canadian Olympic hero. Diana potted the game-winning goal in the 92nd minute against France to secure a bronze medal finish at London 2012. Her goal was historic. The image of her celebrating and kissing the maple leaf on her jersey will never be forgotten. However, the diminutive midfielder is so much more than just that goal.

The evidence:

  • During Canada Soccer’s centennial year, she was named to the All-Time XI women’s team.
  • She’s second overall in all-time appearances, starts and minutes played for Canada. She only trails Christine Sinclair in each of those categories.
  • She celebrated her 150th cap on April 7th, 2013, only the second person in Canadian history to do so.
  • She’s a two-time Olympian and 2012 bronze medal winner.
  • She’s a gold medal winner at Pan American Games and a CONCACAF champion.
  • She was named 2013 Washington Spirit MVP.

And it’s not just stats and accolades. The 30-year-old is a vocal leader and role model, you always get 100 per cent from her regardless of the score, she’s dependable, reliable and always has time to share her thoughts with the media.

Here’s to wishing Diana a speedy recovery. After everything she’s given Canadian soccer throughout her career, she deserves a chance to represent her country at a World Cup on home soil.

Not a big deal? No, it’s a very big deal.


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Gallery: Calgary Foothills U23 v Vancouver Whitecaps U23

What an afternoon for soccer in Calgary. The weather was stunning for the friendly match, which saw over 1,200 pack Encana Field at Shouldice Park. It was an absolute pleasure being behind the lens and taking in the match from this perspective. Congrats to Foothills on their 2:1 victory. The club is working toward the goal of bringing back professional ball to this soccer-starved city.

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June 8, 2014 · 7:16 pm

Calgary hosting Ghana ahead of U-20 Women’s World Cup

Amazing things are happening in Calgary when it comes to the world of soccer. Foothills FC is on the cusp of bringing back professional men’s ball with the inaugural season of their U-23 PDL squad.

International Friendly Poster 3On the women’s side, Calgary West Soccer Club will be hosting the U-20 Ghana national team for a number of weeks in June and July. Ghana will be taking part in this summer’s U-20 Women’s World Cup in Canada and they find themselves in Group A alongside the Canadian team.

The international team will also be holding a soccer camp while they are in Calgary. The camps will be under the direction of current Ghana head coach Bashiru Hayford and Emmanuel Kwasi Afranie, former Ghana coach, who is currently part of the Ghana Football Association Juvenile Technical Committee. They’ll work along side Calgary West FC technical director Henry Haeusler. The Ghana national team players will lead the training sessions.

During their stay in Calgary, Ghana will also take part in a number of friendlies as they prepare for the U-20 Women’s World Cup in August. A Canada Day match will feature Ghana going head-to-head with the Callies Major squad from the AMSL. The Callies roster is made of players who have played on soccer scholarships across North America, including Ranee Premji, who won the NCAA Championship with the North Carolina Tar Heels in 2012.

2014_FIFA_U-20_Women's_World_Cup_logoThe Ghana squad will be in Calgary from June 29th to July 21st. They open the U-20 Women’s World Cup in Toronto on August 5th against Canada.

Short editorial-type comments: Calgary has this odd perception amongst some of the soccer ranks that the sport, particularly the women’s side, isn’t popular here. I have no idea where this originated because it simply isn’t true. A lot of great Canadian players have come out of Calgary including Erin McLeod, Taryn Swiatek and Christine Latham. There are many youngsters on the cusp of doing great things too, including recent U-17 Women’s World Cup standout Sarah Kinzner from Foothills SC.

People in this city care. They care a lot. As someone who has played from CMSA to CIS and now twilight years in CWSA, I can first hand tell you there’s tremendous passion and following for women’s soccer in Calgary. You see it every time a summer camp is held, during outdoor and indoor provincials or even when a national coaching conference is hosted here. It’s amazing to see what the Calgary West and Calgary Callies clubs are doing to bring high calibre women’s teams and players here. Kudos to them and everyone involved.

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To Russia, with love: My Sochi experience at the 2014 Olympic Winter Games

I love the Olympics. One of the reasons I got into journalism was because of the Olympics. It’s a phenomenal event that brings together people from every corner of the world. When I was asked to work in Sochi, I didn’t even bat an eyelash.

I had wonderful experiences in both Vancouver and London and I expected the same in Russia. However, when the 30-day mark rolled around before my departure date, the headlines were filled with information on terrorist threats, the Olympic host being a massive target, and basically that anyone going to the area would be at risk. All of the focus on this wonderful sporting event was gone and instead, the focus was on safety. It’s something I was not used to.

Three days before I was supposed to leave, the headlines intensified. I registered with the Canadian government in case I needed to search for an embassy during my time in Sochi. South of the border, safety dominated American newscasts. Athletes said they didn’t want their families to come with them. There was even talk of the United States sending their own Navy ships to the Black Sea in case a quick escape was needed.

I had absolute stomach turning anxiety on the day I left, but the good news was, I already had colleagues in Sochi. They sent me pictures and gave me briefings about the surroundings and security presence. They felt safe. Maybe they didn’t put my mind at ease 100%, but it definitely helped.


Welcome to Sochi!

My journey to Sochi was simple one: Calgary – Frankfurt – Sochi. When I arrived in Russia, I was greeted by one of the many friendly volunteers. These people were superstars. They were always smiling and ready to help if you had any questions.

When we arrived in the media village, it was as expected. Forget all the stories you saw on Twitter, the accommodations were just fine. It was clean. There was plenty of space. It was quiet. There was Internet. We were in a secure area that was surrounded by a gate that was guarded by police.

I was covering figure skating this time around. Admittedly, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I always knew figure skating was a popular Olympic sport, but I never really knew how fanatical people were about it until I got to Sochi. The Russians had strong skaters in every event. There’s a reason they took the gold in the inaugural team portion. They were just that good.

It was phenomenal to see the kind of drive the skaters had. They spent countless hours day in and day out perfecting their routines for the four minutes the eyes of the world were on them.

The Canadians had a strong showing in figure skating. They left Russia with a silver in the team event, silver in men’s and silver in ice dance. There was plenty of controversy along the way. Did I feel that Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir deserved gold? Of course I did, but I wasn’t a judge. It was fascinating learning about all of the different elements and finally knowing what a proper twizzle was supposed to look like.

Kevin Dineen and women's hockey team

Kevin Dineen and women’s hockey team

In my spare time, I focused on the other Canadian athletes. Our country not only impressed in the field of play, but off of it too. Other journalists were constantly commenting on the friendly and polite nature of our athletes. That’s something to be very proud of.

One of the highlights of my journey to Russia was the success of the women’s hockey team. They went into the tournament as the underdogs. The team must have used it as a rallying point, because they looked stronger than ever. Head coach Kevin Dineen had a game plan and he stuck to it. The final versus the US is one of the most exciting games I’ve ever watched. The resiliency and drive helped them bring home their fourth consecutive gold. Amazing.

Olympic Park

Olympic Park

Olympic Park itself was lovely. All of the venues were top class and they will be for years to come. Sadly, it’s just window dressings. The area outside the park is obviously struggling economically. It really saddens me to think that all of these people who worked at the Olympics are going back to being unemployed and have to wait for the next event to roll around. You could see how much it meant to the workers and volunteers when you spent time talking to them. They were all so genuine.

I left Sochi with a better appreciation for the country I live in. I’ve always been a very proud Canadian and now, even more so. We are very lucky. When I arrived home in Calgary, I had this sense of pride and calm wash over me as I waited in the Customs line.

A big thank you to everyone in Russia. Spasiba.

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