CP PHOTO/COC/Mike Ridewood
CP PHOTO/COC/Mike Ridewood

Where are they now? Vicky Sunohara

In our “Where are they now?” series, Olympic.ca gives you a glimpse at what’s new in the lives of some great Team Canada Olympians since they said goodbye to their careers as athletes.

Once described as the “Wayne Gretzky of women’s hockey,” it should come as no surprise that three-time Olympic medallist Vicky Sunohara is considered one of the greatest female players of all time as well as a trailblazer within the sport.

Growing up in Scarborough, Ontario, Sunohara was on the ice by the age of two. Following in the footsteps of her father who played university hockey for the Ryerson Rams, she won the Ontario University Athletics (OUA) women’s ice hockey championship twice with the University of Toronto Varsity Blues (1990-91, 1991-92). By 19, she had made her international debut at the inaugural IIHF Women’s World Championship in 1990, winning gold with Canada.

Sunohara made her first Olympic appearance at Nagano 1998 where she helped Canada win silver. She went on to win gold at Salt Lake City 2002 and Turin 2006, starting the streak of four straight Olympic titles for the Canadian women’s hockey team. Outside the Games, Sunohara won eight medals (seven gold, one silver) across eight world championships from 1990 to 2007, putting up 41 points in 40 games along the way. She finished her career with 119 points in 164 games for the national team, ranking her within Team Canada’s all-time top 10.

Jayna Hefford, Cassie Campbell, and Vicky Sunohara celebrate gold medal at Turin 2006
Team Canada’s Jayna Hefford, left, Cassie Campbell, center, and Vicky Sunohara, right, celebrate after defeating Sweden 4-1 to win the gold medal in womens ice hockey at the 2006 Winter Olympic Monday, Feb. 20, 2006 in Turin. (CP PHOTO/Ryan Remiorz)

Along with her teammates from the Turin 2006 Olympic team, Sunohara was inducted into the Canadian Olympic Hall of Fame in 2012. She was also inducted into the Toronto Sport Hall of Honour in 2018.

Sunohara’s legacy extends far beyond her contributions as a player. Since her on-ice career ended, she has been heavily involved in development and coaching in women’s hockey.

In 2011 she returned to the University of Toronto, joining the Varsity Blues women’s hockey team as head coach. She helped lead them to the OUA women’s ice hockey title during the 2019-20 season and was named the Women’s Ice Hockey Coach of the Year by both U Sports and the OUA for her efforts.

In 2021 Sunohara joined Team Canada once again, this time as an assistant coach. At the upcoming IIHF Women’s World Championship in August, she will try to help Canada win its first gold at the tournament since 2012. She had previously participated in some under-18 camps with Canada before being invited to a senior women’s mini camp last year by her former teammate, Gina Kingsbury, now the director of the women’s national team.

“The opportunity to be around those athletes was very exciting for me,” Sunohara told TSN. “So when Gina asked me in the summer to carry on and possibly coach at the world championships, it was really a no-brainer for me.”

With three Olympic medals under her belt, Sunohara continues to share her experience with every hockey player she takes under her wing. Most notably, she believes in instilling what she defines as “Olympic values” – namely integrity, accountability, and commitment.

“It’s more than just teaching a wrist shot or slap shot,” Sunohara said in an interview with The Varsity. “It’s teaching the team, it’s teaching anybody that I have the opportunity to be in contact with those Olympic values.”

While women’s hockey is certainly growing, Sunohara believes that continued development depends on creating more opportunities for female coaches and mentors.

“The opportunity to teach, an opportunity to coach, to teach skills,” she told The Varsity, “I think that definitely will keep females involved in the game.”