Friday, 14 September 2018

Looking Good, UNB!

After writing stories about the demise of the University of North Dakota women's hockey program and the merging of the Vanke Rays and Kunlun Red Star teams, it actually feels great to write about a Canadian school adding a women's hockey program to make the sport stronger for women everywhere. The above women from the University of New Brunswick are wearing their brand-new uniforms for this season after the program was resurrected after a cost-cutting move some ten years ago. In fact, it took a former player's challenge through the New Brunswick Human Rights Commission to get the team back, but now that they're within weeks of their first official game, the Varsity Reds are back! And the ladies look good in the black-and-red, even if I believe there should be stripes on the socks. Nonetheless, these ladies open their pre-season schedule tomorrow, so uniforms were definitely needed this week!

Sarah Hilworth will guide the Varsity Reds this season as head coach. The former University of Alberta Panda won a CIS National Championship in 2010 before joining the Pandas as an assistant coach, and had moved onto Olds College in Alberta where she helped launched their women's hockey program in the ACAC. From what Hilworth has experienced in the year of getting to this stage, it sounds like it's been nothing but positive from the get-go.

"The university has shown a lot of positivity in terms of what they are giving us as a program," Hilworth told AUS' Monty Mosher. "It shows they are dedicated. The administration that was there during those past decisions are all gone. It's a new administration that has our back 100 per cent. They are making sure we understand that as a team. I've had nothing but a positive experience and that's really good. Everybody at the university, and in the community, are genuinely excited for this program being back. They see it as an integral part of our community in terms of building positive role models for females in the greater Fredericton area."

Hilworth may have already snagged a team MVP when she recruited Kendra Woodland last season who played on Canada's U18 team for the 2018 world championships in Russia. Woodland was supposed to attend the University of North Dakota, but those plans were dashed when UND slashed that program from existence in the budgetary shortfall. Woodland suited up with the midget tier 1 Thompson Zone Blazers boys' team last season, and she may be able to use that experience in a highly-competitive AUS conference.

"Kendra is an exceptional student-athlete who brings high-end talent to UNB," Hilworth stated to Kamloops This Week. "We're very excited that a player of Kendra's calibre has chosen to stay in Canada to continue to develop her skills as a goalie and to show her commitment to grow our league as a competitive choice for highly touted recruits in Canada."

Officially, defender Paige Grenier from Olds, Alberta was the first recruit brought on by Hilworth as the coach went back to her roots, but there will be a few Manitobans who will suit up as Varsity Reds this season. Defender Amanda Desrochers, who played with the Winnipeg Avros and attended Westwood Collegiate, will don the Varsity Reds jersey, and she'll be joined by Morden, Manitoba's Sage McElroy-Scott, a former Pembina Valley Hawks forward. McElroy-Scott was a prolific scorer in the MFMHL with the Hawks, and she'll be counted on for offence while Desrochers brings a solid defensive game as a stopper to Fredericton. As a note, Ashley Stratton was the first recruit Hilworth made from the Maritime provinces as the Newfoundland-born forward was playing as a 17 year-old on the U19 team at the Ontario Hockey Academy.

In looking at the team roster, there are some fantastic offensive players, some great defenders, and the goaltending should be solid. Hilworth did a great job in recruiting across the country as well as she brought in six Alberta-born players, five each from BC and New Brunswick, three from Ontario, two from Manitoba, and one each from Newfoundland and Saskatchewan. By position, the goaltenders are made up of two British Columbia-born players and a New Brunswick-born player. The defence has four Alberta-born players, a Manitoban, a BC-born player, and a Saskatchewan-born player. The forward group consists of four players from New Brunswick, three from Ontario, two each from BC and Alberta, and one each from Manitoba and Newfoundland.

Mark your calendars, folks, because October 13 sees the UNB Varsity Reds play their first regular-season game against the Mount Allison Mounties - officially their first AUS game since 2008. It's been a long time since we've seen UNB women's hockey, so get out to the Aitken Centre and cheer on Canada's newest team to the U SPORTS family in the UNB Varsity Reds!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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