Once a pair of skates were on her feet, Vicky Sunohara didn’t want to do
The love of the game came easy for the women’s hockey legend. Her father,
David Sunohara, played university hockey with the Ryerson Rams.
“My dad introduced me to the game in our basement and as soon as I got on
skates, it’s all I wanted to do,” Sunohara says. “He would make a rink in
our backyard and many of my memories with him were of playing hockey. I
shared his passion and I loved it.”
She continued to carry that love for the game after David passed away when
she was seven years old, but the competition is what she craved.
“I’m very competitive and I wanted to play at the highest level I could
play at,” Sunohara says. “My uncle recently shared a story with me. We were
playing pond hockey when I was three and I told him that he wasn’t trying
Growing up in Scarborough, Ont., Sunohara played a lot of hockey growing up
– whether it was street hockey, pond hockey or structured league play.
Scarborough was also where she learned how to develop her game and become
the dominant player she was on the biggest stages.
Sunohara’s achievement list is long – two gold and a silver at the Olympics
and seven titles at the IIHF Women’s World Championship. She was also an
integral part of the leadership group alongside Cassie Campbell-Pascall and
Hayley Wickenheiser in the early 2000s.
Feeling on top of the hockey world was a feat Sunohara felt many times, but
she also struggled at a young age to understand her heritage and what that
meant to her as a person.
Her father was Japanese and her mother is Ukrainian, and growing up she had
to deal with name-calling and some bullying.
“There were definitely times when I felt like I wanted to be like everyone
else. I had a great experience growing up, but sometimes when I would be
called names because of my Asian heritage, I just wanted to be someone
else,” she shares. “As I got older, I was mad at myself for wanting that …
I am proud of who I am.”
Sunohara credits her mom for keeping her grounded, learning about her
heritage and what it meant to come from a long lineage of hard-working
“My mom did a great job with me. She told me that I can choose to let them
win or try even harder. I wanted to play, and she gave me the motivation
for me to realize that potential in myself and it stuck with me,” Sunohara
says. “I am so fortunate for the Sunohara family. Now when I think about
what they went through … the resilience and perseverance, I am proud to be
a Sunohara and share my family’s story.”
Throughout her playing career and now as a coach, Sunohara has had the
opportunity to speak to youth about life, hockey and share her story. She
was named a recipient of the Sakura Award in 2020 by the Japanese Canadian
Cultural Centre for exceptional contributions made by individuals in the
promotion of Japanese culture and enhancing awareness of Japanese heritage.
“I’ve been asked to do more things later in my career and I’m just doing my
little part to give back,” she says. “Sports have always been a huge part
of my life and I want to help others and youth get involved. I haven’t
always spoken about the situations when I was younger, but I thought it
would be positive to share my background and story with others.”
After retiring from the game, Sunohara struggled with what came next. She
started at a private women’s hockey academy and really enjoyed the
challenge of learning a new skill, as well as working with youth.
“I didn’t see myself as a coach, but I love the competition, learning and
helping young female hockey players,” she says.
Sunohara has been the head coach for the University of Toronto women’s
hockey team since 2011. In June, she will be behind the bench as an
assistant coach with Canada’s National Women’s Under-18 Team at the IIHF U18 Women’s World Championship in Wisconsin.
“I’m coming in and I’m so excited with what that group is doing with the
young players. It is so important to have access to resources and
information. I can’t wait to share my experience and give my feedback,”
Sunohara says. “I can only imagine how excited they are to represent Canada
and be successful on the world stage.”