© Matthew Manor/HHOF-IIHF Images
Home fires burn bright
In the year Colleen Sostorics became the first woman inducted into the Saskatchewan Hockey Hall of Fame, a new generation of homegrown players has risen up
Wendy Graves
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November 9, 2016
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If you pull out of Evraz Place in Regina, site of the 2016 National Women’s Under-18 Championship, and start driving ever-so-slightly southeast along Highway 48, in about two hours you’ll hit Prairie Avenue. A right-hand turn will take you south into Kennedy, Sask.

There, in the village of 241 you’ll find a post office, a bank, an elementary school and a local grocer, among other amenities. And, of course, you’ll find a rink.

It’s at this rink where the story begins; one that weaves throughout the province of Saskatchewan, across Canada and into places like Turin, Italy, and Harbin, China, and eventually back home, where what Google Maps says is Prairie Avenue locals know as Colleen Sostorics Avenue.

The road was renamed in 2002, after Sostorics won a gold medal in women’s hockey at the Olympic Winter Games. She won two more, in 2006 and 2010, and was a member of Canada’s National Women’s Team for nearly 10 years before retiring after striking gold in Vancouver.

She’s now a full-time mom – to Luke, 4, and Grace, 1 – and a part-time coach with the women’s hockey team at the University of Regina. Earlier this year she became the first woman inducted into the Saskatchewan Hockey Hall of Fame.

A major stepping stone to those on-ice achievements, she says now, was the opportunity to play for her province on the national stage.

“I don’t remember too many specific details,” she says about competing in the 1995 Canada Winter Games and 1997 Midget nationals. “But I remember the feelings: nervous, anxious, excitement, all those things that come with playing in your first championship. And, of course, being very proud to be representing Saskatchewan and taking that to heart, really trying to be the best representation on and off the ice that we could be.”

The teams won silver and bronze, respectively, fueling her fire for more.

In 1999, Sostorics made Canada’s National Women’s Under-22 Team. In 2000-01, she captained it to a gold medal at the Three Nations Tournament.

In 2001 she debuted with Canada’s National Women’s Team. In addition to her Olympic success, Sostorics won three gold medals at the IIHF World Women’s Championship and six more at the 4 Nations Cup. She played in 133 games, and with 58 points (14 goals, 44 assists) retired as the third-highest scoring defenceman in national team history.

One of her biggest highlights was a pre-Olympic tour that visited Regina and Saskatoon in 2005. In a way it brought her full circle.

“Over the years with the national team we got to play in big venues and NHL arenas,” she says. “But I remember walking into what is now the Brandt Centre [then the Agridome] and chuckling because as a kid that’s just where you wanted to play.”

Capping her career with an Olympic gold medal on home ice was sweet – “a culmination of 20-plus years of playing organized hockey” – as was being a small part of a shift in the way Canadians approached sport after those Vancouver Games.

“There seemed to be a change from ‘we’re polite Canadians and we just want to participate and do our best’ to ‘we’re here to win,’” she says. “I feel fortunate that now when Canadians talk about sport we can puff up our chest a little bit. We’re not arrogant but we can be a little bit more proud.”

Sostorics’ rise with Canada’s National Women’s Team coincided with those of three other Saskatchewan-born players: Dana Antal, Kelly Béchard and Hayley Wickenheiser. The youngest of the quartet, Sostorics says her first few national team camps were made less stressful by familiar faces showing her the ropes.

It somehow seems fitting in the year that Sostorics was honoured by the Saskatchewan Hockey Hall of Fame that four of the province’s next generation of players – Brooke Hobson, Mackenna Parker, Sophie Shirley and Willow Slobodzian – made Canada’s National Women’s Under-18 Team, the most ever from Saskatchewan.

“I’m so thrilled,” says Sostorics. “I like to email Mel [Davidson, Hockey Canada’s general manager of national women’s team programs], oh, the Sask girls. Just try to get a plug in for them because I’m very excited that they’re there.”

As part of the team’s selection camp for the U18 nationals, the hopefuls played in the Mandi Schwartz Challenge against CIS teams from Western Canada in September.

“These U18 players are fast and they’re skilled and they’re strong,” says Sostorics. “I’m so proud of where hockey has come in all of Canada, but in Saskatchewan in particular. To have four on the [national U18] team just shows that female hockey is doing well in this province. Their AAA Midget league, a great league with great coaches, is benefitting our players.”

Among the annual hardware the Saskatchewan Female Midget AAA Hockey League hands out is the Colleen Sostorics Top Defenceman award. Last year Slobodzian won it, the year before Hobson.

“Seeing how [players like Sostorics] started off is pretty much where every young girl starts off and seeing them go all the way up to being the best in the female hockey is awesome,” says Hobson. “It’s what young girls strive for. It definitely pushed me to be better, seeing that people like that could be at the top.”

Shirley was given the league’s Hayley Wickenheiser Most Valuable Player award in 2014-15. Shirley has since been invited to two National Women’s Team’s camps and both times been put on a line with Wickenheiser.

Having homegrown heroes growing up gave her not only something to strive to match but someone to emulate.

“Watching them on TV and seeing how they acted, how they carried themselves was a huge part for me and still is today,” she says.

Having already inspired players from afar, Sostorics is happy to now be more involved on the front lines. As a part-time assistant coach with the Cougars, she works with the defencemen. She’s also in the process of getting her HP1 coaching certification.

This week, though, as the honorary chair of the U18 nationals, she plans to be at Evraz Place, cheering for Saskatchewan, yes, but for every player and the further development of the women’s game.

“We talked earlier about how I was in the Hockey Hall of Fame for Saskatchewan,” she says. “It was humbling to be the first woman involved, but now that I see all this talent coming through and all the players I played with and are currently playing, I won’t be there by myself for very long.”

For more information:

Lisa Dornan
Director, Communications
Hockey Canada
403-777-4557 / 403-510-7046 (mobile)
ldornan@hockeycanada.ca

 

Morgan Bell
Manager, Communications
Hockey Canada
403-284-6427 / 403-669-1261 (mobile)
mbell@hockeycanada.ca

 

Esther Madziya
Coordinator, Media Relations
Hockey Canada
403-284-6484
emadziya@hockeycanada.ca

 

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