Vicky Sunohara is the only current member of the National Women’s Team who can tell you first hand how women’s international hockey has been transformed since the arrival of the World Women’s Championship in 1990. Sunohara, who was two months shy of her 20th birthday at the time, is the only member of the 2006 Olympic Team that was a member of the first Team Canada at the inaugural World Championship.
With nine World Championships and two Olympic Winter Games already in the books, the game of women’s hockey has grown by leaps and bounds at all levels since then. The 35 year old Sunohara has been a pioneer for this growing game, closing in on 150 international games, countless medals, points and great memories playing with the National Women’s Team.
“(Back in 1990) there were a lot of great players playing. I was playing in the ECAC (with Northeastern University). But the competition wasn’t very good at all. There were three teams in the whole league at the time. In the COWHL (Central Ontario Women’s Hockey League), there weren’t many teams and probably not many of really good calibre. You seemed to see the Hamilton Golden Hawks winning all the time. I think they had a pretty good idea of who they wanted to come try out. The pool of players wasn’t very big … not anywhere close to what it is today.”
“There are just so many more opportunities for girls now, and players have longer careers. There are so many things to aspire to, the Under 22 team, the Canada Winter Games and what not and of course, the World Championships and the Olympics. It gets more people involved. There’s so much more competition now, that’s for sure and it pushes everybody and elevates the level of play.”
The National Team program has come a long way since really getting its start at the 1990 World Championship.
“There were one or two evaluation camps, and small evaluation camps, very short. There was no fitness testing back then, just practices. Then you find out if you’re on the team or not on the team. Now, there’s so much more to do, and so much more offered too: carding, etc. Being part of the National Team involves a lot more than it did back then.”
And in 1990, there was no mention of the Olympics. It was the farthest thing from their minds.
“I think we still thought we’d be going to the NHL maybe,” Sunohara says with a chuckle.
“It was just about getting scholarships (back in 1990), and playing at the World Championship, which was every two years then.”
“We had to pay out of pocket to play for the National Team. But it didn’t matter … it was so exciting. I couldn’t even believe the first time that there was going to be a World Championship. We didn’t care … whatever it took to play for your country … anybody would do it.”
“I know to enjoy the moment now. Back then, I was thinking: ‘When can I play again?’ as opposed to ‘I’m playing today – Enjoy it’. It’s been a big thing for me over the years. Not wishing time away, just enjoying that day. Enjoying each day as it comes.”
When Canada paraded around the ice in Salt Lake City, gold medals around the necks, smiles on their faces, it would not have been a stretch to conclude that Sunohara, who was , would be making her golden exit. But four years later, Sunohara remains a key component of the Women’s Team. And she’s not spending any time thinking about it all coming to an end.
“You never know when it’s going to be your last time. It’s just so much fun. Time goes by so fast … that’s what keeps me going. People ask me: ‘You have an Olympic gold medal, what do you need now?’ But to be able to make this team is huge. The competition to make this team is unbelievable. There are so many great players. To be able to make the team and be a part of all this … I can’t imagine anything better. The friends that I’ve made and how much I love the competition. Trying to get better every day. I can’t imagine trading that for anything.”
When the day comes for Sunohara to close out her great international career, don’t be surprised to see the smiling ‘Pride of Scarborough’ take place behind a bench as a coach.
“Ask me that question years back … I would have said ‘never’. I wouldn’t want to coach because I couldn’t imagine myself standing behind the bench. I’d want to be out there.”
“But as time’s gone by, and just seeing everything there is in the game. Growing up, you see there’s so much more to the game than just playing. There are a lot of things that go on behind the scenes. Karen Hughes asked me to help out coaching at the University of Toronto and it was very eye-opening for me. I know that I have a lot to learn before I can be a coach. But it was very interesting and I had a great time. So I’d definitely like to stay involved in hockey somehow.”
Vicky Sunohara on being a complete player and being recognized as one of the best at faceoffs in women’s hockey
“It’s something I’ve really got to get back to working on. Growing up, I was always thinking offensively, scoring goals and always finishing amongst the top scorers. It was brought to my attention years back that I need to work on my defensive game. So I’ve worked on that.”
“When I watch players, I like to see complete players. That’s what I look at. I look at Steve Yzerman – great offensively, great defensively, great on faceoffs and I think that’s what I try to do myself. Work on everything because I think that it’s the most important thing to being a great player. I would want a player like that on my team. I’ve worked at it but I need to get back working at it, because I haven’t been doing as well as I’d like to lately.”