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William Douglas has been writing The Color of Hockey blog since 2012. Douglas joined in 2019 and writes about people of color in the sport. Today, as part of's celebration of Asian & Pacific Islander Heritage Month, he profiles University of Toronto women's hockey coach and former Canada women's national hockey team forward Vicky Sunohara, one of the country's most decorated players.

Vicky Sunohara was barely at the conversational age but was chatty whenever she played hockey with her father in the basement of their Scarborough, Ontario, home.

"I was, like, 'Shoot, score! Shoot, score!'" Sunohara said. "I wasn't even 2 years old. He'd ask me, 'Are you a hockey player,' and I'd say, 'Yes.' I didn't make a lot of sense, but I could say 'hockey,' 'shoot' and 'score.' I don't know why or what it was, but it was obvious I was just born with the love of hockey."

That love propelled Sunohara from the basement to the upper echelon of women's hockey.

The 54-year-old retired forward is one of Canada's most decorated players and coaches: a three-time Olympic medalist (gold in 2002 at Salt Lake City and Turin in 2006, silver at Nagano in 1998) and seven IIHF Women's World Championship titles. She had 118 points (56 goals, 62 assists) in 164 games for the women's national team and won 15 gold and three silver medals before retiring as a player in 2008.

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Sunohara won back-to-back Ontario University Athletics titles with the University of Toronto in 1991 and 1992 as a player and two more McCaw Cup OUA championships as coach in 2019-20 and 2022-23. She is 204-68-19 in 13 seasons guiding the Varsity Blues, was named both the OUA and Canadian U Sports coach of the year for three consecutive seasons from 2019-23 and was OUA female coach of the year across all sports in 2019-20.

She was also an assistant coach for the women's Under-18 team in 2020-21, 2021-22 and 2023-24.

"I think she's one of the best who ever played the game, one of the smartest, highest hockey IQs, and then on top of that an incredible leader and teammate," said Carla MacLeod, coach of Ottawa in the Professional Women's Hockey League who played with Sunohara at the Turin Olympics and 2005 IIHF Women's World Championship. "And you see what she's done at U of T and different national teams for Canada."

Sunohara's body of work is worthy of Hockey Hall of Fame consideration, said Jayna Hefford, a 2018 inductee and senior vice president for hockey operations at the PWHL.

"I certainly think she should be under consideration for every Hall of Fame, in my opinion," said Hefford, Sunohara's teammate with Canada and a Toronto assistant under her from 2011-17. "She played with the national team for so many years, so many world championships, Olympic games, so to me, it's obvious. She did her part as an athlete and had so much success and now she's continuing to build the game in a way that's so positive."

Sunohara Hockey Canada 1

Sunohara's hockey journey began at home, launched by her father, David, who played for Toronto's Ryerson University (now Toronto Metropolitan University). His passion for the game was so strong that he played while he and his family were among the near 5,000 Japanese Canadians who were incarcerated at the Slocan Extension Internment Camps in British Columbia during World War II.

If David Sunohara wasn't playing hockey with his daughter in the family basement, he was skating with her on the small rink he bult in the backyard of their home.

"He also went each evening in the winters to maintain and flood the rink at our public school," Vicky said. "I wanted to go with him all the time. I was always playing with big boys and bigger kids. I have such great memories of my mom and dad having to drag me in from playing."

Sunohara on ice as child

David coached his daughter's teams until he died before her 8th birthday. Vicky's mother, Catherine Sunohara, kept her on the hockey path, but it was difficult at times.

Vicky occasionally encountered racist taunts and hurtful teases that she was adopted because she didn't resemble her mother, who was Ukrainian Canadian.

"I remember crying to her one time, saying I kind of wished I just looked like her so I wouldn't get called names," she said. "She said people were calling me names to stop me from scoring goals. She said, 'The best way to get past them, Vicky, is to be successful and score more goals.' Just to have that focus that you're not going to quit … you're going to be better and stronger."

Strong enough to earn a scholarship at Northeastern University in Boston, where Sunohara had 78 points (51 goals, 28 assists) in 25 games in 1988-89 and helped the Huskies to the Eastern College Athletic Conference championship. She was named conference rookie of the year and earned 1989 Women's Beanpot tournament MVP honors after scoring four goals in the championship game, a 9-0 win against Harvard.

Sunohara had 122 points (78 goals, 44 assists) in 45 games at Northeastern. She left after two seasons, shaken by a robbery in her apartment and suffering from homesickness.

"I grew up being super-close to my mom and, obviously, losing my dad at such a young age," she said. "It was a tough time being away from home."

Sunohara with Mother

She finished her college career closer to home at the University of Toronto. She also made the Canada women's national team, which set the stage for a different type of homecoming at the 1998 Nagano Olympics.

Nagano was the first time that women competed in hockey at the Olympics and that Sunohara visited the country of her father's ancestors.

"It was about 50 miles from where my grandparents grew up," she said. "The whole experience, looking back, was unbelievable, and to have my mom and my sister and my aunts and uncles all come and watch and be there."

"And then, all of my extended family who I hadn't even met before, in the stands with my blown-up hockey card, it was unbelievable. Some of them brought my mom and dad's wedding photos. I was, like, 'How do you have these?' It was awesome."

Sunohara is proud of her Japanese roots, decades removed from the child who cried at the bullying about her heritage. She received the 2023 Sakura Award from the Japanese Canadian Cultural Centre with Montreal Canadiens captain Nick Suzuki and businessman and former Canadian Football League player Bill Hatanaka for exceptional contributions in promoting Japanese culture and enhancing awareness of Japanese heritage.

"Rewinding to what I said about thinking why couldn't look like my mom so I wouldn't be called names, it Sunohara one of those things as I got older that bothered me more than the actual name-calling," she said. "My mom said, 'You should be very proud of your Japanese Ukrainian heritage,' and she specifically said Japanese to me.

"Every time I get the opportunity to speak about my family and background, I do, because I am a product of them. I am proud of who I am."

Sunohara and Sakura Award

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