Words such as role model and inspiration are not overused when describing the women of Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS) hockey nominated for the Marion Hilliard Award. Although there could only be one winner, all were certainly worthy of such distinction. Named in recognition for Dr. Marion Hilliard, who played hockey for the University of Toronto in the 1920s, it was only fitting that a modern day player from the university would make history in her memory.
Having stood between the pipes for the Toronto Lady Blues since 2010, Nicole Kesteris became the first player to win the Award in consecutive seasons. As a side note, all four conferences in CIS play (Atlantic University Sport, Canada West, Ontario University Association, Quebec Student Sports Federation) have their own version of the Marion Hilliard Award.
The winner in each conference becomes a finalist for the CIS version of the Award. This season, Dalhousie’s Sarah MacNeil captured the AUS version, Ottawa’s goaltender Stephanie Mercier won it in the QSSF, while Canada West’s recipient was Triston Riemer of Regina. Of note, current Toronto Furies star Kori Cheverie actually won the AUS version of the Marion Hilliard Award three consecutive times during the 2000s.
Raised north of Toronto in the municipality of Aurora, the admirable efforts of Kesteris (majoring in Geography) begin in her community. Arranging a gift drive for the Yellow Brick House, a local home for abused women, she has also donated her time to the Children’s Aid Society and Toronto’s Latvian Centre.
Juggling academic and athletic obligations while also serving as a volunteer youth hockey coach, her efforts as a hockey humanitarian also spread to her fellow teammates on the Lady Blues. She helped organize a team-wide effort to organize a dinner for families staying at Toronto’s Ronald McDonald house.
As the fourth competitor in Lady Blues history to capture the Award, following the likes of Bridget Bates, Sue McCutcheon and Jenny McRae, Kesteris continues a proud legacy in program history. In addition, a pair of her game-used gloves used is on display at the Hockey Hall of Fame. On October 20, 2012, she became the first female goalie in CIS women’s history to score a goal.
From a hockey perspective, her final season with the Lady Blues (in which she was named team captain) provided her with a pair of special milestones to commemorate her stellar career. On January 25, a home win against the Waterloo Warriors provided her with the 50th win of her CIS career. The night was enhanced by the fact that it was also her senior night celebration, as it marked her final home game as a member of the Blues.
This was attributed to the fact that Kesteris would follow up her historic win with the chance to don the Maple Leaf on her sweater. Suiting up for the Canadian contingent at the 2015 Winter Universiade in Granada, Spain, she returned home with a silver medal.
Competing in two games, she led Canada to wins over Kazakhstan and Japan. As her coach with the Lady Blues, Vicky Sunohara, won a gold medal for Canada at the 2002 Winter Games in Salt Lake City, the international experience for Kesteris only augmented the mutual respect between the two.
Statistically, Kesteris had another strong season, as her 14 wins ranked second in OUA conference play. Also ranking third in statistical categories such as Goals Against Average (1.44) and Save Percentage (.944), her performance culminated in her second career nod to the OUA Second All-Star Team. As a side note, she earned First-Team OUA honors and CIS First-Team All-Star nods in 2014, respectively.
Her post-CIS career brings with it the possibility of following in the footsteps of other elite CIS goaltenders such as Liz Knox and Charline Labonte by continuing her career in the CWHL (where Sunohara won a league title in 2008). Regardless of her next move, Kesteris has already carved a stellar legacy both on and off the ice. Providing a positive example for future Lady Blues players, her heart of gold has already improved the quality of life for many less fortunate members of our community, a victory that can be enjoyed by all.
Image obtained from http://varsityblues.ca/