While hockey is the most popular sport in Canada, there's no denying it can be prohibitively expensive to play.
Two years ago, Rebecca Blissett got tired of harassing her friends and family to buy cookies or frozen drumsticks to help finance her hockey team, the Ice-O-Topes, who play in Division Two in the Adult Safe Hockey League. The professional photographer (and Courier contributor) came up with the idea of combining proven crowd-pleasers-scantily clad young women and on-ice action-for a pin-up calendar starring her team members. "It's surprising nobody has done it before," she said. "I mean, there are calendars for everything out there. Women and hockey-it seems like an obvious choice so we jumped on it."
They also decided to give part of the profits from the $20 calendars to the Britannia After School Hockey (BASH) program, which provides underprivileged teens with free equipment and lessons. "They have this great little program but it doesn't get a lot of funding because a lot of people don't really know about it," Blissett said. "Plus it is geared for teenagers and, while everyone wants to help the little kids get out on the ice, older kids don't always have the same kinds of options available to them."
While last year's calendar saw individual Ice-O-Topes (the team's name is a nod to the Springfield hockey team from The Simpsons) in elaborate settings away from the rink, this year's installment was shot in one night at the Burnaby Winter Club. "It was so cold. We just kept cycling girls out of the dressing room, and of course many were full of liquid courage," said Blissett. "I kept it really short because I had to shoot 13 players in just a couple of hours and there wasn't a lot of time to deal with people's insecurities. It was just 'This is what you're doing' and some are shaking with nervousness because it was their first time. But a lot of them, the first year they are scared s---less, but the next year they think it is great."
Diana Launt, who runs a children's toy train business when off the ice, had to be railroaded into participating, but has no regrets. "I've never done anything like this before," said the new Miss February, who, like other models, doesn't show nearly as much skin as Canucks forward Ryan Kesler did for ESPN magazine. "They really kind of forced me into it saying 'You have to, you have long legs.' It was freezing but still a lot of fun. I can't wait until next year."
BASH head instructor Jay Aikenhead said the money the calendar brings in is a big help, as are any donations of second-hand gear. "We don't accept jerseys or hockey socks, but anything else is pretty much game."
He noted that current Winnipeg Jets forward Kenndal McArdle needed a charitable assist to help get his start. "I know his first set of gear was donated from a family in East Vancouver. There are a lot of kids we are able to expose to hockey that wouldn't have the opportunity otherwise."
Calendars are available online at Iceotopes.wordpress.com and the team is throwing a release party this Friday night (Dec. 9) at the Thirsty Penguin pub at Burnaby 8 Rinks.