To the uninitiated passerby, the scene inside the suite at Winnipeg’s famous Fort Garry Hotel on Friday night might have looked like just another business mixer or high school reunion: people chatting animatedly, fruit platters and chilled drinks. But this was no ordinary get-together.
After all, how many 17th anniversary reunions have you heard of? And there are sure aren’t many where everyone got to graduate at the head of the class, so to speak. But for the 1990 edition of Canada’s National Women’s Team, which won gold at the inaugural IIHF World Championship in Ottawa, that’s exactly what was taking place.
Seventeen members of that squad arrived in Winnipeg on April 6, and this private reception served as the prelude to the team’s scheduled introduction in the pre-game ceremonies at the Canada-USA game at the MTS Centre the following night. Also in attendance were former team staff members and the son of 1990 Head Coach Dave McMaster (now deceased).
Forward Vicky Sunohara holds the distinction of being the only still-active Team Canada player who suited up in Ottawa in 1990. She’s an alternate captain with this year’s team. Her eyes sparkled and her voice was full of emotion as she spoke with HockeyCanada.ca in the hallway outside the reception.
“This is unbelievable,” said Sunohara, who tallied nine points in 1990 as a 19-year-old. “I can’t even explain it. I haven’t even seen the whole team yet. People keep coming in this room. And wow, what a great idea by Hockey Canada, because I know this is very special for me, and very special for all the players. It’s been years in some cases since I’ve seen certain people. I’m not even going to be able to sleep tonight, getting ready to play in this game [versus the USA] tomorrow and having everybody there and wearing pink. It’s going to be pretty special.”
The Scarborough native also said she felt blessed to have been able to impart some of what she felt about that first tournament to current young Team Canada players like Meghan Agosta and Tessa Bonhomme.
“Last week, we had a little 1990’s party and we watched the game, and I was talking to them about what happened and some of the players,” Sunohara recalled. “They’d be like, ‘Who’s that? Who’s that?’, as we were watching the game. It was really fun to relive those memories. I spoke a little bit, and said: ‘If you can, capture every moment you can, because you’ll look back on these things in 17 years, and think, ‘Oh my gosh, we had some great times and met some great people.’”
Even though the game has grown drastically both in Canada (with nearly 66,000 registered players) and worldwide since the 1990 Worlds, Sunohara said the core emotional experience remains the same.
“I can’t imagine the feeling of putting on a Team Canada jersey being different. I was so excited back then, and we all were. I’m still excited to do it, having the opportunity to represent my country.”
And what would Sunohara like to see transpire in the next 17 years for women’s hockey?
“I’d like to see a professional league where players can earn a living by playing. I think it will keep a lot of the top players playing. If you can make this a career, you’ll see a lot more girls involved with the sport long-term.”
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