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Marion Hilliard Award hallowed honour for Jana Headrick

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Establishing herself as one of the most inspiring players too wear the UNB jersey, the 2021-22 season saw a heartfelt appreciation for Jana Headrick. Working towards her Masters in Sports Recreation, the work ethic and strong leadership displayed only comprised part of a fascinating narrative. With an opportunity to give back to the community, simultaneously paying tribute to her heritage, Headrick became the architect of a heartwarming initiative.

Instrumental in the realization, and success, of a hockey camp geared towards teaching Indigenous girls the fundamentals of the game, the results went far beyond the frozen perimeter. Fostering a highly encouraging culture, built on the pillars of friendship and belonging, numerous members of the Reds also graciously gave their time as guest instructors.

With an impressive fundraising amount of $13,000, the effort also allowed the camp’s participants the opportunity to compete in a female hockey league in Fredericton, New Brunswick at no cost. Undeniably, such an effort is destined to influence many young lives, finding a tremendous number of role models in the Reds players.

From the pleasantly surprising amount of media attention, to a tremendous example of the team culture, the overall success of the camp, and the reflections, provided Headrick with a multitude of grateful emotions, “I think it is kind of an extension of work we had done all year. When we started the camp, deciding what the program would look like, we did not think it would attract the media attention that it did. 

We hope to inspire others; maybe they can create other similar programs in their community. Every Sunday, we had 15-20 girls on the ice. I was there with Lily (George) along with head coach Sarah (Hilworth) and Cass (Hilworth). Four other girls (on the Reds) rotated. 

For the last week, we had a skills session. We had more players from the team there to make it more interactive. I was so grateful to everyone for their support, along with support from the UNB women’s hockey team, just a sense of gratitude.”

By season’s end, Headrick not only earned the Atlantic University Sport (AUS) Community Service Award, the acclaim would extend nationally. The recipient of the U Sports Marion Hilliard Award, which honours the student-athlete that best combines academics, athletics and community involvement, Headrick belonged to a distinguished group of finalists, including a former teammate, Laura Ellis of the Toronto Varsity Blues, Brigitte Laganiere, a member of the national champion Concordia Stingers, plus Mount Royal Cougars fifth year skater Anna Purschke.

“I was pretty shocked and overwhelmed. I was just grateful to have won the AUS Award. To be recognized with the U Sports Award, I was thrilled. It was such a great experience to share, to have my teammates there when I won (the award) at Nationals.”

Enjoying 21 appearances for the Reds in the regular season, contributing eight points, while bringing a strong wealth of experience to the defensive unit, Headrick, hailing from Garden River First Nation, Ontario, enjoyed her first goal for the program in a 6-1 victory versus St. Thomas on September 22, 2021. With the fall semester resulting in a sensational 4.3 GPA, another facet proved to be just as essential in an unforgettable season.

Encompassing the theme of full circle, Headrick made the decision to pursue her post-graduate studies at UNB due to a familiar face. Acknowledging the presence of Lily George, she recalls their original experience as teammates, competing in junior hockey. From the Nipissing River First Nation, George, wearing number 7, first played for the Reds during the 2018-19 season. Both sharing Indigenous heritage, Headrick and George were kindred spirits, representing the essence of teamwork and friendship for a riveting Reds team on the rise.

“It was awesome. She was probably the biggest reason I am here in Fredericton. She was my teammate in my last year of minor hockey. I was billeted in North Bay and that was where I met her. We became really good friends at that time.

In looking to continue my education, I knew Lily was at UNB and she loved being out here. She is my best friend and to work with her in a program like this, is pretty awesome, very special. Glad I was able to share the experience.”

With her older brother, Owen, skating for the Syracuse Crunch of the American Hockey League, making his debut for the club on January 22, 2022 versus the Utica Comets, family milestones encompassed another highly emotional theme for Headrick. Part of the Reds Senior night festivities, the team still in the chase for first in the conference, she enjoyed the opportunity to grace the ice with her grandparents enjoying their inaugural trip to Fredericton.

“On Senior Night, not only were my parents there. My grandparents were there and it was their first trip to watch me play in Fredericton actually. It made it more meaningful having all of them watching me play. We beat SMU 3-0 to take first place. I could not have asked for a better game for them to come and watch. I was grateful to have them there.”

Following the Senior Night victory, the Reds maintained their momentum in the postseason as Headrick and her teammates continue their winning ways. Starting with a quarterfinal win versus Mount Allison, the semifinals resulted in a two-game sweep of the St. Thomas Tommies. Worth noting, George scored the series clinching goal.

Sweeping the St. Francis Xavier X-Women to claim the Postseason Tournament crown, the clinching game allowed Headrick serendipity. Assisting on a goal by George, allowing the Reds a 2-0 lead, the eventual shutout triumph signified an historic achievement, a place at the U Sports Nationals assured, extending the theme of history.

Undoubtedly, the chance to be part of this monumental group held many proud feelings for a jubilant Headrick. Discussing the anticipation heading into the game, its outcome held the potential to define the program’s rebirth, having returned to competitive play in the 2018-19 season. The only element overshadowing the eagerness involved the acknowledgement of their opponent’s standing as one of the nation’s elites.

“It was all any of us could think of on Thursday morning, getting ready to play. We were trying to be as ready for the game as best as possible. St. FX is one of the best programs in U Sports. We knew we had to respect that. To win, I do not know how to describe that. There were so many emotions. We enjoyed the moment we were in.”

With the plethora of unique storylines for the Reds at Nationals, from an historic first appearance, to its highly exhilarating shootout victory versus McGill, signifying a coming of age moment, Headrick contributed her own narrative. In addition to the magnitude of the Marion Hilliard Award, later followed by recognition from UNB with the Garnet Copeland Award for Top Student Athlete, Headrick’s presence at the 2022 Nationals incorporated another unique achievement.

Prior to skating for the Reds, Headrick first excelled for the University of Toronto’s Varsity Blues. Skating for head coach Vicky Sunohara, a former Winter Games gold medalist, during her Varsity Blues career, the 2022 edition of Nationals provided a unique coincidence. In addition to Headrick winning the Marion Hilliard Award, Sunohara captured the U Sports Coach of the Year Award. 

As a member of the Varsity Blues, Headrick enjoyed consecutive appearances at Nationals, beginning with the 2019 edition. Appearing at Nationals with two different schools in a career marks a unique, and highly rare, achievement for any athlete. Although Headrick remains humble about the opportunity to cement her legacy through these notable appearances, reflections filled with gracious acknowledgement and appreciation

“Not really something I ever thought about. It speaks to how great the programs were that I played for. The University of Toronto was always a strong program. I attended Nationals twice with them, in 2019 and 2020. It was a great achievement, especially coming out of OUA with so many teams.

Here at UNB, it is a new program. We all believed we could be there at the start of the year. It is their fourth year, third year playing. To achieve something like that is amazing. It speaks to what type of program they have here; it is professional and well run.”

All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”

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