Hockey’s Field of Dreams

Rutledge Field in West Vancouver
Rutledge Field in West Vancouver. Home of the 2019 BC High School Girls’ “AAA” Field Hockey Championships

By Len Corben

North Shore schools have been playing field hockey for a long time, back decades to when it was called grass hockey and games were often played on grass disguised as mud, unlike the artificial turf of today.

It was in the 1920s that Jessie Buckerfield McDougall coached the grass hockey girls at North Vancouver High School. She had played at UBC in 1919 (and was the university’s oldest-living former varsity player when she died at age 102 in 2002). After marrying the soon-to-be legendary North Vancouver teacher- coach-principal W.R. “Mickey” McDougall in 1924 shortly after he began his lengthy career at the North Shore’s first high school in 1922, she became the coach of the school’s grass hockey team. It’s safe to say she never imagined that some 90 years later, the North Shore as well as other places in B.C. would be a field hockey hotbed, feeding universities across Canada and the United States with talented stick-wielders.

The first North Shore high school grad to play field hockey in Eastern Canada may well have been Linda Buckingham who graduated from North Vancouver High in 1965 and played at Nova Scotia’s Acadia University. Other outstanding players of the 1960s era – like North Vancouver’s Barbara Moon and West Vancouver’s Jennifer Chapman, Linda Williams, Dulcie Brimacombe, Marg Dempsey and Trudy Leishman – always opted for UBC.

Ashleigh Miller (West Vancouver 1996) was the first North Shore grad to go south to play. Originally intending to go to the University of Victoria, she became unsure of making the defending Canadian- champion Vikes after her tryout with the junior national team ended when the roster was trimmed from 25 to 18.

Ashleigh (Miller) Gold – Old Dominion University photo
HEY, COACH! – Former North Shore field hockey players who went on to star with national-champion university teams and are now coaching the next generation of North and West Vancouver stick-wielders include Ashleigh (Miller) Gold. Old Dominion University photo

But when Brown University in Rhode Island contacted her, Ashleigh decided rather late to call the top five U.S. Division 1 field hockey colleges. It was a bold move indeed. Yet – site unseen except for a grainy home video – Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia, offered her a full scholarship based on her resume. They were the only one of the five that had any scholarships left to give out. (The others all offered to take her the following year.) “I think they were just kind of going on a whim,” she says of that scholarship. “It worked for them.” And for her.

Ashleigh started every game all four years at Old Dominion, mostly at left back, as the Monarchs topped the Colonial Athletic Association each year and claimed third (1996), second (1997), a cherished first (1998) and sixth (1999) in the NCAA championship tournament. Now as Ashleigh Gold, she’s been teaching and coaching at Collingwood since 2001. The Cavaliers have been finalists in the provincial “AA” tournament numerous times since then, winning in 2008, 2010, 2012, 2015, 2017, 2018 and in the recent 2019 tourney.

She’s not the only one to play for a North Shore school and the West Vancouver Field Hockey Club, and give back to the sport by coaching. Among others are Stephanie Hume, Lucy Shaw and Kristyn Harrington who have coached the West Vancouver Club’s elite Adanacs teams which have competed in the massive ESPN Field Hockey Showcase in Florida and in other tournaments.

Stephanie (Collingwood ’97) played five years at UBC including Canadian championship teams in 1998, 1999 and 2001. Lucy (Sutherland ’00) played for Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, when the team copped NCAA Division 1 titles in 2002 and 2003. Kristyn (West Vancouver ’05) played at UBC winning two Canadian university championships during her time there.

Well over 100 North Shore girls have graduated from high school and gone on to play field hockey at universities across Canada and in the U.S. Those are astounding numbers. Most have received full-ride or partial scholarships or some other form of financial aid. A significant number have taken on the role of team captain, achieved accolades ranging from rookie-of-the-year to conference all-star to All-Canadian or All-American, and won national championships.

Many of the girls have played for teams in the West Vancouver Field Hockey Club which provides some very high-profile competition.

Next winter, some of this year’s Grade 11s will have the tough task of deciding where to play university field hockey in the fall of 2020. Do they want to explore the big world out there, leave home and go east or south? Or should they play close to home where everything is more familiar? What’s the quality of the education they’ll get? How much will school cost beyond any scholarship money? What does it cost to fly home at Christmas? Do they want to play for five years (the Canadian system) or four (in the U.S.)? The options for those good enough are wide-ranging. But there are so many variables, so many decisions.

Kristen took her stick east

Kristen Shier went east and loved every minute of it.

She and Handsworth teammate Sam Smith (who played five years at UBC where she was co-captain her last season) had wanted to go somewhere together to play but it didn’t work out.

“I looked at the rankings the year I graduated from high school,” recalls Kri, “and the University of Toronto was the best field hockey school in the east. I also looked at it academically and it stands up pretty well. So it was a good choice. It was definitely an adventure going by myself. The coaching staff, I would say, was the best in Canada, hands down… absolutely.

“Our group of girls was such a tight-knit group coming in in my first year and I left that way [graduating in 2010 in Urban Studies] just feeling like the girls were my family. I was never homesick, never really felt separated from Vancouver. It never bothered me.”

Photo of Kristen Shier playing for University of Toronto. Blair Shier photo
KRISTEN SHIER – This Handsworth 2005 grad played five years at the University of Toronto, three as co-captain (including 2007 when the Blues were Canadian university champions), while also earning All-Ontario and All-Canadian selection. Blair Shier photo

By going east when there were no others from here playing field hockey at University of Toronto, Kri found herself an accidental recruiter. “A lot of times parents are not secure about their kids going all the way across the country. So knowing there was another girl there helped.” Then, as one of the captains, she soon found herself actively recruiting. In 2010 when the Blues were Canadian champs, there were 10 girls from B.C., eight of them from the North Shore. “Once we can get someone [to Toronto] on a recruiting trip,” she declares confidently, “they’ll definitely go to the school.”

Emily went south of the border

Emily Kozniuk experienced a whole different level of athletics going from Argyle to Boston College in 2007.

“I had offers from quite a few schools,” Emily explains. “I took three official visits and had offers from numerous other schools but decided on Boston College because their business program was ranked one of the top in the country and that’s what I wanted to go into. The combination of field hockey and the business school really drew me there.

Photo of Emily Kozniuk playing for Boston College
EMILY KOZNIUK – After graduating from Argyle in 2007, she played four seasons at Boston College, meriting All-Atlantic Coast Conference, All-Northeast Region and All-America status while captaining the Eagles. John Quackenbos photo

“The best thing about Boston College?” Emily ponders, repeating the question. “I don’t want to say the importance of athletics, but how strongly and seriously it’s taken. It’s very different from at home. It was an eye-opener when I went down there to see how big football is, for instance. The entire campus shuts down the day before a game and then the tailgating is just out of control. And everybody knows everything about all of the athletes. It’s a totally different world.” “The best thing about the field hockey was my team. I met so many people from around the world, teammates from Argentina, New Zealand, England and Germany. I had the opportunity to play with some very talented girls. So that’s one thing I left Boston College with is the great people.”

Kristyn found a home at home

Kristyn Harrington went to West Vancouver, the school both her parents attended, and had interest from post-secondary schools in the U.S. plus Victoria, but opted for UBC.

Photo of Kristyn Harrington playing for UBC
KRISTYN HARRINGTON – A West Vancouver 2005 grad, she played five years at UBC, winning two Canadian university titles as a five-time Academic All-Canadian and the Thunderbirds’ co-captain and a Canada West, Canadian and U Sports Tournament all-star in her last year. Richard Lam photo

“I think part of it (choosing UBC),” Kristyn notes, “was talking to those who had played with me or who coached me, getting their vibes on how much they had enjoyed it there. I felt I would mesh better with that team and coaching staff, not to mention they had a great reputation in terms of national titles.” In fact UBC won the McCrae Cup – emblematic of the U Sports championship – twice while she was there.

“The best thing was getting to know the girls as well as you do. You instantly have 15 friends. Being in a city that I was somewhat familiar with, that was kind of nice. I was very comfortable. There were a lot of great people in the Human Kinetics program I was in. It was really kind of tight-knit and the right program for me. So I really enjoyed what I was learning and the people around me.”

Kri, Emily and Kristyn also revealed that they made their decisions on which institution to attend while taking official campus recruiting trips. In some cases it was the negative experiences that had them looking elsewhere. But each obviously made the right decision, for them, and came away with a solid university education, a playing experience that was second to none and friends for life.

For the Record

Official BC high school field hockey championships began in 1964 but no North Shore team won what was initially a single tournament (until 1978) or either of the “AAA” or “AA” titles until 1997 when Collingwood won their first of three consecutive “AA” crowns.

However, since 2004 the North Shore has had undoubtedly the most competitive league in the province. Since then North Shore schools have won the prestigious mid-season Bridgman Cup Tournament in Victoria – the oldest field hockey tournament in North America and open to the best teams from both tiers – 13 times in 15 years (Handsworth nine, Carson Graham and West Vancouver twice each).

At the BCs since 2004, North Shore teams have captured nine “AAA” titles (Handsworth five, West Vancouver three and Carson Graham one) as well as five seconds and five thirds while Collingwood has won seven “AA” championships in addition to their three in the 1990s. During that now-16-year span, including the 2019 season, 11 North Shore schools have made an appearance in either the “AA” or “AAA” provincials, nine of them multiple times (including Handsworth and Collingwood every year, West Vancouver 13 times and Argyle 12) and has had seven schools achieve multiple Top-3 finishes.

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Len Corben was the first co-ordinator of athletics for a regional area in the BC school system and held that position with the North Shore Secondary Schools’ Athletic Association for 31 years (1969-99). Now one of the province’s premier sports historians, he has researched and written hundreds of historical sports stories, authored three books and chairs the recently revived North Shore Sports Hall of Fame selection committee.