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Sunohara embraces her roots

She is a women’s hockey legend, a two-time Olympic gold medallist and a seven-time world champion … but most of all, Vicky Sunohara is proudly Japanese

Katie Brickman
May 20, 2022

Once a pair of skates were on her feet, Vicky Sunohara didn’t want to do anything else.

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 hard enough.”

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 people.

“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.”

For more information:

Esther Madziya
Manager, Communications
Hockey Canada

(403) 284-6484 

Spencer Sharkey
Manager, Communications
Hockey Canada

(403) 777-4567

Jeremy Knight
Manager, Corporate Communications
Hockey Canada

(647) 251-9738

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