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Sensational season continues for Sarah Hilworth with national coaching award


Celebrated as a key builder in the revival of the University of New Brunswick Reds, Sarah Hilworth reached a celebrated place of reverence in 2022. Leading the program to its first regular season and postseason Atlantic University Sport (AUS) championships, an appearance at the U Sports Nationals followed, playing for the bronze medal.

Worth noting, Hilworth’s strong leadership skills and dedication to the community also extends to standing as a Board Member of Fredericton’s Central Female Hockey Association (CFHA). Also a Director of Player Development for three different age divisions, her acumen as an instructor was on display when the Association served as host for the NHL/NHLPA First Shift Program.

As one of Hilworth’s hallmarks involves creating a strong culture, her efforts are reaping bountiful rewards. Progressing with each successive season, such labours reached a new summit in 2022, earning recognition as the AUS Coach of the Year. 

Marking the first in a pair of prestigious honours, Hilworth followed it up with a monumental milestone. Capturing the 2022 BFL Canada Female High Performance National Coach of the Year Award, it heralded her arrival as one of the finest in her field. With such accolades, her team first approach shines even brighter, quick to acknowledge that a highly dedicated group were crucial towards her own success at UNB.

“It was shocking but I was definitely proud (of the award). Proud to represent the group here at UNB. It is fantastic to get that recognition. With everything the players and the staff have achieved, it is great.

To cap off the season like we did was years of hard work. The credit goes to our athletes and our staff, who all put in tremendous effort. 

We would not be here without them and I am just so proud of everyone involved in our group. It is special what we have done over the last couple of years. It sets a high bar over the next couple of years at UNB.”

From an early age, Hilworth was destined for coaching greatness. Assisting with such duties during high school, her acumen and resiliency shining through, the experience marked an empowering beginning. During her competitive years with the University of Alberta Pandas, skating for legendary coach Howie Draper, she commendably gave her time in an instructional capacity for the Edmonton Special Olympics Floor Hockey team. 

Although Hilworth, a member of the Pandas Century club for career points, saw her career reach an abrupt end after shattering her kneecap, valiantly blocking a shot, she enjoyed a competitive comeback on the diamond. Playing third base for British Columbia at the 2016 Senior Women Invitational baseball championships in Red Deer, Alberta, a podium finish saw the gold medal draped around her neck.

Enjoying a pair of seasons on Draper’s coaching staff, highlighted by the 2015 Canada West title, his highly positive influence made him an invaluable mentor for Hilworth. Reinforcing the value of hard work, it served her well in the capacity of head coach with the Olds College Broncos from 2015-17. Foreshadowing her efforts with the Reds, she also helped launch the Broncos program.

Fittingly, 2022 also provided an element of serendipity for Hilworth. Of note, Draper served as head coach in a gold medal effort for the Canadian contingent at the Under-18 Women’s Worlds. Additionally, Hilworth will enjoy a prominent milestone too, appearing at the Canadian team’s training camp in preparation for the 2022 IIHF Women’s Worlds, National team

“The recipient gets an invitation to the national team camp. Learning from some of the best coaches in Canada and see what it takes to get to that next level. It will be awesome to get tha t opportunity and get to be in the room with the best minds on the ice and some of the best players in the world.”

As the BFL Coaching Awards include provincial recipients in the Competitive and Community categories, Hilworth was in the company of two other distinguished winners. Both former competitors in AUS play, Abby Clarke and Katie Peddle represent a great coaching future for women’s ice hockey in New Brunswick.

A former Female Athlete of the Year with St. Thomas University, Clarke enjoyed over 70 appearances for the Tommies. Coincidentally, her final season (2018-19) between the pipes for the program, earning AUS Goaltender of the Year honours, marked Hilworth’s first as the Reds bench boss. This season, Clarke served with the Edza West Reds U18AAA club, leading her team to within one game of qualifying for the Esso Cup.

Peddle, an alum of the Saint Mary’s Huskies, spent the past season as head coach for the CFHA Storm U13 AA club. Representing her first season in this role, she led the Storm to the provincial final,

“I had conversations with them during the season. I took on a mentorship role with Katie. Very well deserved on her behalf. She has changed the game for a lot of younger players and done great work with the youth U13 program.

Recently, I had a good quality conversation with Abby, talking about how can we grow and develop and create opportunities. I saw her the other day and congratulated her. She is a fantastic coach with a good future ahead.

We are all on the same page for growing the game in this area. It is impressive the quality of players that we have here. We are still persevering for a lot of opportunities. We have to make sure that we continue to push and have every chance to have a good future.”

Undeniably, a key facet in Hilworth’s optimistic outlook towards the future involves the potential for today’s players to become tomorrow’s leaders. Among the key highlights in a memorable season for the Reds saw Jana Headrick and Lily George donate their time, organizing a hockey skills camp for Indigenous girls. The camp also featured Reds teammates serve as guest instructors, including Hilworth admirably grace the ice. 

Considering that several Reds skaters have graciously found the time to provide instruction for youth teams, it marks a strong point of pride for Hilworth. Seeing the potential in her players to remain in hockey via the coaching route, part of a reciprocation of respect that sets a highly positive tone, testament to a great culture. Always observing the brighter side of things, female hockey in New Brunswick has a gem in Hilworth,

“I think we have a lot of great hockey minds on our team. Definitely some future coaches. It is awesome the way that they give back. It is only a question of time before they become full time coaches and create other opportunities.

There is awareness since our program came back. There was a substantial investment. When you invest in the game, good things can happen. If people keep investing in them, you can build on a tradition of excellence, in the classroom, on the ice and in the community. It continues to grow.”

All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”

Featured image by Jeff Crawford

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