Womens’ hockey star profiled in former intern’s book

Tom Bartsiokas came to Beach Metro News as a young intern from the Ryerson School of Journalism back in 2001. While he was with us he contributed several stories to the paper, and was a great guy to have around the office – someone I could talk hockey with. When he left we all wished him great success in his chosen career, and the last we heard from him he was working for TV Guide, March of Dimes and Cancer Canada. He recently sent us an email to let us know that he’s published his first book…fittingly about hockey.

Bartsiokas is the co-author (along with Corey Long) of Angela James: The First Superstar of Women’s Hockey, the authorized biography of the first woman to be elected into Canada’s Hockey Hall of Fame.

“Angela actually works at Seneca as a senior sports coordinator. In her role, she helps coordinate recreation and varsity sports activities at the College,” Bartsiokas, who is the editor of the Senecan, Seneca College’s campus newspaper, recalls. “Every year, I’d write a new story about the latest honour bestowed on her and I decided to learn more about her life and hockey career. That’s when I discovered she was indeed the first superstar of women’s hockey.”

Angela James tells the story of a young girl of mixed-race background who grew up in the Flemingdon Park area of Don Mills, and went on to become one of the most celebrated athletes in Canada. Flemingdon Park is one of Toronto’s rougher neighbourhoods, and the young Angela learned early how to protect herself, settle scores and, to her credit, avoid getting involved in substance abuse. It was sports that saved her.

Growing up there was never a day that Angela wasn’t outside playing hockey. It was the first thing she did after school, and the only thing she did on the weekends. In the summer she would play ball hockey with her friends on the street or the tennis court. When the season turned to winter, she would take her game to the ice. Angela also spent a lot of time in her formative years playing softball.

When she was eight years old, her mother, Donna, cajoled the Flemingdon Boys Hockey Association to allow her to be the first girl to participate in the league, and it soon became obvious that she was truly star material. Hockey politics prevailed, and when James became better than any of the boys she played alongside, she was asked to leave the league. It wasn’t until she enrolled in the Recreation Facilities Management program at Seneca College that she fell under the radar of Lee Trempe, coach of the Seneca Scouts girl’s hockey team, as well as for the Central Ontario Women’s Hockey League (COWHL). Under her tutelage, James, at 16, took the Scouts to a silver medal, and won the OCAA’s women’s MVP Award. From there James went on to play 18 seasons in the COWHL where she won seven consecutive scoring titles.

But it was as a member of Team Canada at the international level that cemented James’ reputation as an elite athlete. Her determined, hard-hitting style of play helped Team Canada win three consecutive world championships, and brought women’s hockey to national attention. Yet, in one of the most controversial decisions ever made, newly appointed Team Canada coach, Shannon Miller, decided to pass over Angela James when it came to selecting the team which would compete in the 1998 Olympics, the first year for women’s hockey.

“Angela never got to play in the Olympics,” Bartsiokas said. “It was one of her dreams that never came to pass.”

The story behind that decision, and the fallout that resulted is one of the most compelling sections of the book which Bartsiokas began in 2010. He and co-author Long began by interviewing James twice a week for several months. Hockey superstar Adam Graves was approached to write the book’s Foreword.

“He immediately said yes,” recalled Bartsiokas. Graves had known James for many years, through Flemingdon Park, and through Seneca College. “It was his way of saying ‘Thanks.’” Tom did say that he tried to contact Shannon Miller – “I wanted to hear her side of the story.” – but never heard back. “It’s my one regret about the book.”

Since leaving competitive hockey Angela James has settled down with her partner Angela McDonald, and is a hockey parent herself to their three children. It was more a surprise to her than to others in the sports world when she got a call from the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2012 to say that she had been chosen as one of the first two women to be inducted into the Hall (her fellow inductee that evening was an old foe, Cammi Granato, star of Team USA). After a lifetime of overcoming obstacles, both personal and political, Angela James had finally won the ultimate respect and acceptance from those in the world of hockey.

Bartsiokas has been at Seneca for seven years, and has no plans to leave. “I love the college,” he said. “I’d like to be a sports reporter, but I really think that writing books are more my forum of expression.” Tom is also an instructor at the college teaching a course in Business Writing. “I try to tell people that writing is a process,” he said. “It doesn’t happen overnight. You have to do all your research, plan things out… then write and re-write.”

There will be an official book launch party for Angela James: The First Superstar of Women’s Hockey November 8 at the new Ryerson Arena (formerly Maple Leaf Gardens). In the meantime you can get a copy of the book by visiting threeoclockpress.com.

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