It was at the age of two-and-a-half that Vicky Sunohara fell in love. On the backyard rink of her Scarborough home, built by her hockey enthusiast father, David Sunohara, Vicky first laced-up skates and began her illustrious career.
Sunohara’s achievements are numerous. She dominated every level of junior hockey, and received a full scholarship to Northeastern University, Massachusetts, after impressing on the women’s hockey team at Stephen Leacock Collegiate Institute in Scarborough. She then won an Eastern College Athletic Conference championship, before returning to her hometown to pursue a degree in physical health education at U of T.
With the Varsity Blues, Sunohara won two Ontario Women’s Interuniversity Athletic Association (OWIAA) championships, in 1990–1991 and 1991–1992. She went on to become one of the most decorated, and recognizable, members of the women’s national program. She is a three-time Olympian, was assistant-captain from 2001–2008, and has a total of 18 medals.
It is fitting that such a decorated athlete will take the reins as head coach of one of U of T’s most decorated intercollegiate programs.
“I get the opportunity to coach a team that has so much tradition, what could be better than that?” Sunohara asks.
But there is much more to Sunohara than all her accolades. She is also the mother of twins, served for two years as the director of women’s hockey at The Hill Academy in Vaughan and is a member of the Board of Directors of the Canadian Sport Centre Ontario — a non-profit organization committed to assisting high-performance athletes and coaches achieve excellence in international competition.
And as much as she is recognized for her achievements internationally, she doesn’t want to be defined by what she has done.
“I don’t expect to rest on accomplishments,” she says. “I want to set new goals in this new chapter of coaching. I don’t want to be seen as a good coach [because I’m] known as a good player. I have a lot to learn.
“The girls I’m coaching respect that I ha[ve] a lot of experience. I have a lot of expectations for the girls and myself, and I hope they can see that and be the best they can be,” Sunohara said.
“I expect to give everything I [have] got to take this program to the next level. I expect nothing less than every player giving it all they[‘ve] got, to respect the program and the university.”
Sunohara stresses the idea that “it doesn’t take talent to hustle.” Her high expectations of herself and the team are rooted in hard work and respect.
Her experiences with back-to-back OWIAA championship-winning teams have helped shape these expectations.
“Things have changed a lot since then. I want to let [the players] know where the team and the program have come from. I was proud to represent the university, and at the same time I had a great time. There was no player who thought themselves above the team, and that is something I would like to have,” Sunohara said.
The university game has changed immensely since Sunohara’s time. The Canadian Interuniversity Association did not exist then, and the amount of time that players spend at the rink has increased.
“Before it was one game, one practice a week. Now kids are on the ice six times a week [doing] conditioning and strength training. Off-ice training was not as popular [but] it is expected, even mandatory now,” Sunohara explains.
Despite the changes to the culture of the game, Sunohara knows she is coaching student-athletes who have a full schedule.
“I don’t expect players to be who they aren’t. I don’t expect hundred-goal scorers from players who aren’t [that kind of player].”
The new head coach has her sights set high for the season ahead. “You never enter a year hoping to finish third or fourth. Obviously the goal is to win the OUA. When you make goals, you make attainable goals,” Sunohara said. “I want to be honest and let everyone know where they stand. I want to develop a team where everyone can look at each other, not necessarily be the best of friends, but respect each other and the team.”
“I will be hard on them to work, but also to make it enjoyable. This is a great opportunity for these girls and I will give them the tools and resources they need.” Sunohara said.
Those resources include an assistant coaching staff consisting of two other Olympians, also U of T alumni — Jayna Hefford and Lori Dupuis. Hefford is a six-time world champion, while Dupuis was captain of the Varsity Blues from 1994–1997, and is the team’s all time leading scorer with 58 goals and 78 assists for 136 points. They bring an additional wealth of experience to the program.
“I played on the same line as Kristi and Jayna in 2002 and we worked well [together],” Sunohara said. “The experience between us will be huge as we had similar as well as different coaches. Each one of us will bring in a difference in experience.”
For Sunohara, the decision to take the job as head coach of the Blues women’s program was an easy one.
“I had a few offers to go down south and coach, but I love Toronto. I will do the best I can to continue this tradition.”
The Varsity Blues open their regular season on October 8th against York University, and play their first home game October 9th against the Ryerson Rams.