A career on ice for Bow’s Casian

Monitor staff
Last modified: 2/5/2016 1:51:11 AM
Growing up in Bow, Desiree Casian was one of the lucky ones. She had a superstar for a female hockey-playing role model.

Casian (whose maiden name is Biron) remembers her mother keeping her home from school to watch Concord native Tara Mounsey in the 1998 Olympic women’s hockey gold medal game. She remembers being in awe when Mounsey helped coach her roller hockey team. And Casian recently unearthed a box of her old memorabilia that included a Wheaties Box featuring that women’s Olympic team.

Now, Casian has become the female hockey role model. The 28-year-old is playing for the Boston Blades of the Canadian Women’s Hockey League.

“In my eyes, yes, being a role model is the most important part of this,” Casian said. “When I was growing up, there wasn’t anything like this, but we did have Tara Mounsey.”

Players in the CWHL don’t get a salary. Casian makes her living as a teacher for the visually impaired. She also just earned her second master’s degree while studying for a doctorate. Those are probably better qualifications for role-model status than playing a sport, although Casian might not think so.

“When people ask what I do and I tell them … they usually want to go back and talk about the doctorate (she’s in an Ed.D. program at New England College),” Casian said. “And I’m like, ‘No. no, the coolest thing I do is that I’m a pro hockey player.’ ”

The CWHL is now in its ninth year and has teams in Boston, Montreal, Toronto, Calgary and Brampton, Ont. The Blades practice twice a week in Marlborough, Mass., play home games in various Massachusetts rinks and fly to away games except when it’s

Montreal (bus). Attendance is typically under 1,000, except in Montreal.

“The Montreal fan base is just unreal,” Casian said. “We need to figure out how to make that happen here.”

It used to be the only post-college women’s hockey league in North America, but the CWHL has a new rival. The National Women’s Hockey League began play this year with four American teams – the New York Riveters, Connecticut Whale, Buffalo Beuts and Boston Pride.

The existence of two women’s hockey leagues might create competition that will benefit the sport. Or it could hurt the overall product by diluting it. For now, the two leagues are trying to cooperate. The CWHL’s Les Canadiennes de Montreal faced the NWHL’s Boston Pride as part of the NHL Winter Classic festivities this January at Gillette Stadium.

Players in the NWHL do get paid (salaries range from $10,000 to $25,000) and most members of the U.S. National Team have jumped from the CWHL to the NWHL, including a large number of former Blades. But Canadian Olympic stars like Marie Philip-Poulin, who scored the game-tying and game-winning goals in the 2014 gold medal game, Hayley Wickenheiser (a five-time Olympic medallist), Genevieve Lacasse (Boston’s starting goalie) and Tara Watchorn (Boston’s top defenseman) all play in the CWHL.

“I can’t speak for everybody else, but I don’t really mind (not getting paid),” said Casian, who is the oldest member of the Blades. “I’m just happy to play. And the word is we might get paid next year, but whether we do or not, as long as I have a place to play, I’ll be happy.”

Even if Casian wasn’t playing in the CWHL, you can be sure she would have found a place to play hockey.

She first tried the sport when she was 5 and instantly fell in love with it. She said she wasn’t very good at first, but when she was 9 she tried out, and made, her first girls’ team, much to her mother’s surprise.

“I was so bad that when they called to say I made it my mom was on the phone saying it couldn’t be,” Casian said. “And I distinctly remember being like, ‘Mom, stop, stop, they said I made it.’ ”

But don’t be mistaken. Casian’s parents, Donna and Roger Biron, were incredibly supportive, like most hockey parents. From age 10 to 19, Casian played on multiple teams throughout the year, something that wouldn’t have been possible without the help of her parents.

“They knew I loved it, and they loved bringing me,” Casian said.

She played on the boys’ team at Bow High as a freshman. She enjoyed playing with the boys, and couldn’t say enough nice things about Bow Coach Tim Walsh. But when she took a trip to Brewster Academy and realized she could go to school there and play on a girls’ hockey team, “my heart was set.” After two years at Brewster, she transferred to The Gunnery in Washington, Conn., looking for more of an academic challenge and an extra year of eligibility.

After graduating from Gunnery in 2006, Casian went to St. Michael’s College where she played both ice hockey and field hockey. She loved her time at St. Mike’s and will approach anyone wearing a piece of clothing representing her alma mater, but she figured her competitive hockey days were over after she graduated from college.

Casian played in mens’ leagues after she graduated, married Rob Casian, who played college hockey at Daniel Webster College, and then began playing in air traffic controller hockey tournaments with her husband (who is, obviously, an air traffic controller). The couple even took a trip to Bled, Slovenia, for one of these air traffic controller tournaments. Casian said the entire tournament was like one long party, the stands were packed for the games and, “it was the most amazing experience,” even if she did get decked by one of the ringers on the Russian team.

Someone noticed Casian playing in one of these air traffic controller tournaments, sent her husband a Facebook message in September suggesting she play in the CWHL and that was all it took. Casian jumped at the chance, got invited to try out and was selected to play for the Blades.

The Boston team is being coached by former University of New Hampshire women’s coach Brian McCloskey. He was fired by UNH in December of 2013 after an altercation with a player, but there’s been nothing like that to report with the Blades.

The Blades’ season, however, isn’t going exactly the way anyone on the team would like. Boston, the defending champ, has struggled with the defection of so many players to the NWHL and is in last place with just two points in 19 games. Casian, a forward, doesn’t have a point in 18 games played.

Of course, she would like to win and score more, but that doesn’t diminish her excitement about playing the sport she loves on a level she never thought possible.

“We’re so fortunate just to be able to play pro hockey,” Casian said. “It’s amazing to be like, ‘Oh yeah, we flew to Toronto this weekend for a game.’ I mean, are you kidding me? Whose life am I living?”

(Tim O’Sullivan can be reached at 369-3341 or tosullivan@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @timosullivan20.)


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