Sauce Us a Follow

AMBASSADOR SPOTLIGHT: Lesley Burton | Tilley, AB, Canada



Tell us about yourself!

I am originally from Macrorie, Saskatchewan. Born and raised on the farm and moved to Lethbridge, Alberta after graduating from high school where I met my husband and we now live on a farm outside of Tilley, Alberta with our two daughters. We farm together, and I have my own business for agriculture soil assessments, specializing in Irrigated Land Classification. 

My hockey career began at the age of 11, playing my first years on a senior women’s team. After winning Provincials in 1992, I moved onto boys’ minor hockey in my second year of U14 in Outlook. From there I continued to play with the boys, only missing my 1st year of U18 as my dad didn’t want me to get hurt. I managed to be miserable enough to play my second year of U18 and finish up my minor hockey. 

At the same time, I was playing with the boys, I was playing with the Saskatoon Selects AA team as well as involved with the Team Sask program. These were some of my most memorable years of hockey. Great teams, excellent teammates, and good, competitive hockey. 

Our AA team was doing well, winning provincials as well as the Western Shield in 1994 and 1996. In 1995, I was on Team Sask for the Canada Winter Games and brought home silver. At the same time, my U16 boys’ team was in a battle to win our provincial semi finals and managed to upset a team that had beat us all year (having to win our second game by 4 points as we lost 5-2 the first game – this game was a pivotal point of learning to believe in ourselves and the impact of team cohesion). We followed up with winning the Provincial final that year, so it is one of my favourite group of memories all happening within a few weeks time frame. 

Sometime afterwards, we were sent a recruitment package for the Oval program in Calgary, Alberta. With not much understanding of the women’s hockey pathway, I didn’t understand this was, at that time, a doorway to professional women’s hockey in Canada. With a combination of me not understanding what opportunity was on the table and my pop’s not wanting to let me move at such a young age (I wasn’t that keen on it either), I stayed in Saskatchewan. I was also very much in love with track and field as I was an elite athlete in throwing as well, so it was ok to keep on keeping on right where I was. 

My mom thinks I closed doors making that choice and I can understand her wanting me to go. That would be hard to know your kid was missing an opportunity. She obviously understood the opportunity better than I did at the time. We had relatives in Calgary, so it would have worked, but I truly believe if you were good enough to make the National Team, you would make it. If I didn’t get any invites after Canada Games and USPORT, to me, it wasn’t in the cards. Maybe things could have been different, maybe not. All I know is I lost my dad at the age of 69 to cancer and I am so very thankful I had my time with him. Had things been different and I wouldn’t have been around, that would have been much greater to deal with mentally than the what if of going to Calgary or not. 

After high school, I moved to Lethbridge, Alberta to train for track and field as that was my focus seeing as it was the only sport I was offered U.S. scholarships for. After turning down my US offers, I was able to stay in Canada and lower the cost of my schooling for my parents as I did not have high enough marks for a full ride. Lethbridge provided an amazing training opportunity working with a now current Canadian Olympic throwing coach. 

Unfortunately, I was a bit of a victim of being alone and secluded in my first year. My friends I did have were not into sport and with not knowing the team well and travelling across town to the University for training just became unattractive. I had lost my focus and drive. It’s the only way I can explain it. I think I came off a high and hit a low and chose to quit, which is something I regret as I absolutely loved throwing. I needed someone to talk to in order to help me through that transition.

Fast forward 2 years and I graduate in 1999 from Lethbridge College with my Ag Studies diploma in Plant and Soil Science. I was recruited by head coach for the University of Lethbridge to come play women’s Pronghorn hockey. The program was new, but I didn’t really think too much about it and was happy to have the opportunity. 

2 year post-diploma B.Sc degree was stretched into 3 years as I wasn’t in a hurry to be done this phase of my life. I was very proud to be a Horn. Playing USPORT was an amazing opportunity as I loved being back into elite hockey. 

3 years were packed full of friendship and sisterhood with some of the most amazing women I know. We have all been through so much together, we still essentially act as a team, supporting each other through the trials and tribulations of the game of life. 

I graduated in April of 2002. I felt as a player I was just starting to really find my stride as a complete player. Mindset, maturity, skill set and drive were all in sync, but I was done. I moved to Tilley with my husband and started coaching female minor in 2003.

What made you want to be a WHL Brand Ambassador?

I want to be involved more than just at a community level. I want to involve my community, region, province and beyond in helping promote the growth of our game. My goal is to help young women find their pathway with less obstacles than I had. I truly feel it is up to us as women and the parents of daughters, to make the exposure and promotion of our sport happen. We can not rely on others that don’t share our passion. I feel like we are always breaking ground, but maybe that is just our generation’s role. Continue what those before us worked so hard for and amp it up a whole lot. 

The worst playing experience I had under a negative leadership taught me the importance of being a good coach. I understand the effect you have as a coach on a player’s confidence, and it was one of the best lessons I experienced on the common traits of a bad coach. Mental health, communication and the voice of athlete is so essential to a healthy, unified team. As a mentor to our junior coaches in our community, I want to continue to lead them and ensure they learn the importance of their presence and effect of their role. 

I have also learnt the importance of understanding people are human and passionate and that can relay into emotion, so teaching our youth to hold a powerful mindset over a negative one is also something I like to relay. People change, people grow and if we don’t make mistakes, we don’t learn….but you have to learn. 

What are you most looking forward to as a #WHLAMBASSADOR?

Being involved in a program that is here to promote and provide opportunity within our sport. We are all passionate for the same reason. I want to be a positive voice and influence for the sport. Helping someone achieve their dream is so rewarding and that is what I can see happening through Women’s Hockey Life.  

What’s something not a lot of people know about you?

My track and field experience as an athlete. I have never broken a bone (knock on wood). I once caught a fish by catching the eyelet of the leader of a hook that was already in the belly of the fish (I have pictures to prove it haha). That is likely the most random story I have. My hobby is wood working.

If you could sit down and have dinner with one female hockey player, who would it be and why?

Manon Rheaume. She was my idol. She was such an integral influence for Canadian women hockey players as well as all I would think. I was very proud that she was Canadian though. 

I also had teammates from Team Sask that went on to become Olympic Champions and I would love to catch up someday, chat about the experience and let them know how proud I am of them.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given in hockey or in life?

As a player – you gotta believe in yourself and your team. If you don’t commit, the mission, the vision, the core values can not be fully achieved to their full capability. Mentally, “regroup, focus, believe”. My coach repeated that in our Bantam provincial playoff. He would yell on our bench “You gotta BELIEVE!!”  It worked. One of the best lessons ever. 

As a coach – My 3rd year Head Coach (Doug McLeod) at the Pronghorns said as a coach or a professional you can never have enough resources. Don’t try to know everything, and it’s ok to not. 

My AA coach Ron Dobchuk was excellent at having an emotional connection with his players. Best coach I ever had, and the only person I know that can stick handle with a straight blade, both hands… He cared and he showed it. He laughed a lot and made commitment fun. He knew that success started in the dressing room, and he was such an influence for that.  We were down in the final of the Western Shield going into the 3rd. There was not a doing this well, not doing this well speech. In a nutshell, his speech was “Some of you are in your last year, I want you to say what you are playing for”. We cried, we got super emotional, and we played for each other, we won. That was one of the most memorable lessons on team cohesion.

John Wooden is amazing. His mindset of team success is exactly inline with my beliefs of a well-built team. Team Spirit (eagerness, unity, cohesion etc) is not something you see, but more so something you feel, it’s the best thing ever and so powerful for a team. I have experienced this as a player and a coach. I have also experienced the opposite of a unified team and it is just as powerful. So toxic, it makes you want to quit. 

In life: When I left home, my mom said don’t waste your time on people that won’t waste their time on you. Also said you can always clean your house, but you can’t always spend time with friends and family. 

My dad said just before he walked me down the aisle that marriage isn’t easy. It’s something that you must work at all the time. He said they (my mom and dad) could have walked away from each other at times, but they didn’t, and he was so proud of that. I use that for my marriage, but also life. It’s not easy, and it’s easy to quit. 

After graduating University, I was quite down that I didn’t have any options (or know of any) to move on in hockey. The Horns were at USPORT National Championship. I was an assistant coach that year and it was very hard to not be able to step on the ice. I felt like I had missed an opportunity by graduating. My husband put it best in saying that the opportunity was graduating. It was the best mindset adjustment for me at that time to be able to move on. 

What’s your dream for women’s hockey?

Opportunity. Let’s build. Let’s take out the washboard and pave the player/coach development pathway. Let’s remove the obstacles we can control. There will always be a portion of society that will remain negative towards women’s sport, but luckily, they have zero control on our eagerness to improve all aspects of the game. 

I would say my ultimate dream for women’s hockey is that young girls can grow up watching the best women’s hockey on the same platforms as the men. When the networks are flipping from each NHL game on Saturday night’s, the women’s league is right there as well. All games, men and women professional leagues, broadcast together. Another dream is a women’s sport network, featuring all professional women’s sport as well as the up and comers, and tidbits of the little ones just starting to keep us all humble.  

Let’s not let anyone tell us how successful we can be. 





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