Predicting the NWHL Awards: The Perseverance Award

Photo Credit: Kaitlin S. Cimini

On Thursday, February 18, the NWHL announced that they will hold their awards ceremony on March 20 at the culmination of the NCAA’s Women’s Frozen Four championship tournament. The league announced that they’ll be presenting seven awards in total, ranging from the league’s best record in the regular season, to the player-voted MVP.

One presentation that will be made at the inaugural post-season ceremony is the Perseverance Award. According to a recent update from NWHL.co, the Perseverance Award is awarded to the player who most exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship, and dedication to her sport.

There have been a handful amazing stories in the NWHL this season – the league itself is a story of perseverance. One of the first major injuries occurred in an odd play along the boards, in which Connecticut Whale defenseman Anya Battaglino suffered a spinal injury that kept her out until very recently.

Battaglino has recovered completely and has contributed to the Whale’s success. Photo Credit: Kaitlin S. Cimini

After an injury to Taylor Holze of the New York Riveters, a rule change was put into place which called for bench doors to be closed at all times while the puck is in play. A line-change had just occurred when Holze was checked near the bench, causing her to hit her back on the exposed door frame. Holze – a practice player for the Riveters – has recovered from her injury and returned to action.

Players around the league have similar stories of perseverance; overcoming injuries is clearly a natural part of such a physical sport, however, one player has been an undaunted inspiration for anyone who has heard her story.

Boston Pride forward Denna Laing was severely injured when she crashed headlong into the endboards after stepping on an opposing player’s stick in the Women’s Classic exhibition game held on December 31, 2015. Laing was rushed to Massachusetts General Hospital, where she received treatment for what was referred to as ‘a significant spinal injury.’ The injury left Denna with limited movement in her arms and no feeling in her legs. In addition, the doctors performed a tracheostomy, which would both help Denna to breathe and also, allow her to speak.

The hockey community rallied to Denna’s cause immediately. The hosts of the NHL’s Winter Classic, the Boston Bruins, along with their opponents, the Montreal Canadiens, have been persistent in their support, with cash donations, jersey auctions, touching tributes (like the one below,) and more. Along with the NHL, the NWHL and the CWHL have been substantial supporters, offering their care and assistance in any way possible.

Faced with what appeared to be insurmountable adversity, Denna Laing has remained relentlessly positive.

In her first message to the public following her injury, Laing began, “Let’s start from the beginning, the best day of my life.” She describing her pre-game experiences, she continued, “After those first few minutes of skating around tragedy struck. You know the rest…. but I don’t want you to feel bad for me. This is a moment to remember for Women’s Hockey. We made history that day and I would never take those moments back.’’

Since this initial message to the public, posted less than two weeks after the injury occurred, Denna has made strides in her recovery that are nothing short of amazing. A recent video posted on Facebook demonstrates how far she’s come in her rehabilitation, and how much strength she’s recovered in her arms in just a few short weeks.

On February 14, the Boston Pride played their final home game of the NWHL’s regular season. The team dubbed it ‘Denna Day,’ and dedicated their efforts to help raise funds for Denna’s recovery. Laing surprised the team in her first public appearance, joining them on the ice for warm-ups and in the pregame huddle. Laing met with fans and posed for pictures, all the while with her usual sunny smile.

Of all of the predictions that could be made regarding the post-season awards, the Perseverance Award is a lock, and obviously, deservedly so.

In less than two months, Denna Laing has willed herself from a place where she was nearly unable to move, to navigating her motorized chair around teammates and supporters at a Boston Pride game. Laing’s story is a true testament of the strength of human will. In short, Denna Laing is perseverance, personified.

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