Tales of perseverance, dedication, and victory often take the spotlight in the world of ice hockey. Within this narrative is the inspirational journey of Sophie Grawbarger, a fourth-year forward and a standout player on the Varsity Blues women’s hockey team. 

Grawbarger, who is specializing in Indigenous studies and minoring in history at U of T, sat down with The Varsity to discuss some of the highlights of her hockey career and reflect on her experience as a Varsity Blue. 

Journey into the hockey world

Growing up in Garden River First Nation, Grawbarger’s introduction to hockey came at around the age of five. “My parents introduced it to me, specifically my dad. They just signed me up thinking I would probably quit a couple [of] days later, but I actually really fell in love with it. And I’ve been playing ever since,” said Grawbarger.

From those early days on the ice to the present, hockey has been more than just a sport for Grawbarger; it has become her safe place to find peace. “I love being a hockey player because anytime I step on the ice, anything else going on or stressing [me] out, I just forget about it. And I can go on the ice for an hour or two, just have a clear mind and think about hockey,” Grawbarger said. 

She found inspiration from Detroit Red Wings right-winger Patrick Kane, specifically his skillful puck-handling maneuvers. She emulated his style, honing her abilities as a player on the ice. 


Path to the Varsity Blues

Grawbarger’s dedication and talent didn’t go unnoticed, leading her to join the Blues women’s hockey team after catching the eye of Blues head coach Vicky Sunohara. “My coach Vicky reached out and said they were interested in maybe doing a tour, so I came to Toronto to do a tour and I fell in love with the campus along with the rink. I knew it was a really prestigious program, so it was an easy choice for me to come here,” Grawbarger said. 

Her decision marked a significant milestone in her hockey career. In the previous 2022–2023 season, she secured the second position on the team by scoring eight points during the postseason, and this success persisted into this season, with her scoring 10 goals as of March 17. Nevertheless, her most cherished hockey memory was winning the McCaw Cup last year. “It was the first time I actually won a championship in my life, so it was a really good experience,” said Grawbarger. Moreover, hockey has allowed her to form meaningful bonds and explore new horizons, enriching her life both on and off the rink.

Reflecting on the current season, Grawbarger expressed confidence and anticipation as the team headed into the U SPORTS Championship, played in Saskatoon. Despite the weight of expectations stemming from the team’s past successes, she emphasized the importance of staying grounded and trusting in the collective strength of her team. This camaraderie and mutual trust form the bedrock of Grawbarger and her team’s strategy — a strategy built on resilience, adaptability, and belief. 

The team has shined in Saskatoon, advancing into the U SPORTS Championship Final to play against the Concordia Stingers. Specifically, in their 2–1 quarterfinal victory against the University of New Brunswick Reds, Grawbarger scored the game-winning goal and was named player of the match.

Grawbarger scored the game-winning goal against the UNB Reds. COURTESY OF HUSKIE ATHLETICS

Family and community

Central to Grawbarger’s journey is her family’s unwavering support and the close-knit bonds she shares with her teammates and coaches. Their encouragement and belief in her abilities have been a constant source of strength, propelling her through triumphs.

However, her journey as a hockey player hasn’t been without its challenges. “Thankfully, I haven’t had any major injuries, but overall, being a student-athlete is stressful with all the schoolwork, deadlines, and everything,” said Grawbarger. She further emphasized the significance of effective communication in maintaining a balance between academics and athletics.

Beyond hockey, Grawbarger is deeply invested in her academic pursuits. “I wasn’t aware of how good the Indigenous studies program was until I came here, and I was really shocked [at] how inclusive they were, how many programs or courses that they have compared to other schools in Ontario. So I’ve really enjoyed it so far,” said Grawbarger. 

She also tries to stay active in the Indigenous Student Association at U of T, striving to stay connected with her cultural heritage and community, while excelling academically and athletically.

Grawbarger and the team have a close-knit bond. COURTESY OF HUSKIE ATHLETICS

Lessons learned, dreams pursued

Looking ahead, Grawbarger embraces her future with an open mind. “Something I’ve really tried to do here is just enjoy every moment and don’t take anything for granted. I think moving forward, I just want to try to live in the moment and not think too much about what’s to come and what I have to worry about later,” said Grawbarger. 

Her advice to the players of the next generation and Indigenous youth is simple yet profound: work hard and believe in yourself. In celebrating Grawbarger’s achievements, we honour her athletic prowess and pay homage to the resilience and tenacity of Indigenous athletes everywhere. As she continues to carve her path, Grawbarger stands as a beacon of hope and inspiration for aspiring athletes.