Leading the Growth of Para Hockey
The COVID-19 pandemic changed Kayla Munro’s post-secondary plans, but the goaltender landed on her skates at Simon Fraser University, making some history in the process
The past two years have been anything but normal for Kayla Munro. Like many athletes, the young goalkeeper’s daily life has been turned upside down by the global pandemic, as seasons have been canceled and restrictions put in place. The challenge of finding avenues to be able to play hockey has become difficult.
For Munro, her journey to continue playing hockey led her down the unique path of joining the Simon Fraser University (SFU) men’s hockey team. The result was that a talented young hockey player was able to continue in the sport while breaking down barriers.
“I didn’t know if I was going to be able to play hockey again,” Munro said. “I’m just grateful right now to be playing on the SFU team.”
SFU and Munro had a fantastic 2021-22 regular season in the British Columbia Intercollegiate Hockey League (BCIHL), going undefeated with a perfect 12-0-0 record. For Munro, she made history throughout the season. She first put her name in the BCIHL history books as the first woman to play in a league preseason game on September 25, 2021, when she entered the third period to take the net against the Okanagan Lakers. She had a solid outing, stopping 13 of 14 shots in the frame. Munro then made her mark on October 16, 2021, when she became the first woman to start a BCIHL exhibition game, also against the Lakers.
“I was a little nervous,” Munro said after watching his first game. “Honestly, I hadn’t thought of it as a milestone. I was nervous because I hadn’t played a game in about two years. Last year at Syracuse and the year before that, I had surgery on my shoulder I spoke to a sports psychologist and learned some really good ways to control my nerves and make them a driving force in the way I play. a little nervous, I felt prepared.
Munro’s crowning achievement at this point came on February 5, 2022, when she became the first woman to play in a BCIHL regular season game. The 19-year-old took the trick for the third period against the Okanagan Lakers as SFU skated to an 8-5 victory.
For Munro, the original plan was not to rewrite history as a member of the SFU men’s hockey team, in fact it was far from the case. Her goal was to play NCAA hockey, and it appears she achieved that accomplishment when she committed to Syracuse University in New York on a hockey scholarship in 2019.
“Honestly, it was a dream come true to get the scholarship for Syracuse,” says the product from North Vancouver, B.C. “My goal was to play in the NCAA since I started playing hockey . In my opinion, other than the Olympics, this is one of the highest levels you can achieve for women’s hockey. »
However, as the world went into lockdown and the sport changed, Munro’s plans also changed as she opted to stay home with her family and not play south of the border. The decision was not easy, but was met with support and understanding.
“I went to Syracuse for about a month in 2020,” says Munro. “We couldn’t practice or do anything; we were just stuck in our apartments. For family reasons, I decided to come back home. Originally it was just for one semester, but then I decided to stay home. [Syracuse head coach Paul
Flanagan] was favorable. He’s an amazing guy. He wants the best for you, and he told me he wants whatever makes me happy and what’s best for my sanity.
Once Munro decided to stay home in British Columbia, she found herself looking for a university to further her education. Additionally, she was hoping to find a place to play hockey, a difficult task given all the restrictions in place associated with the pandemic.
“I applied to Simon Fraser University and was accepted,” says Munro.
Once her schooling plans were secured, she began to consider hockey options.
“I started watching everything. Even if they had an intramural team or a house league, I just wanted to keep playing.
“I found out that SFU had a men’s hockey team so I emailed [head coach Mark
Coletta] ask if I could try. I told him a bit about myself, the teams I played on and the level I reached in hockey. He really supported me right away. »
“Kayla needed a place to play,” says Coletta. “I let her know she was more than welcome to come and try, and if you’re good enough to play, you’ll play. Given his difficult situation, we wanted to give him a chance.
Munro’s tryout was successful and after a training camp she was included in SFU’s 2021-22 roster.
“She can play hockey,” adds Coletta. “She is technically very good between the posts, she moves very well. So making sure she fits well is the most important thing.
Coletta was clear that Munro made her team on the merits of her game. He views her as a hockey player, with no gender designation.
“Kayla is a wonderful person,” he says. “She has proven every day that she is ready to work and play.”
Not being treated differently is something Munro appreciated about Coletta.
“He believes the best players should be on this team,” said the goaltender. “It doesn’t matter if you’re a girl or a guy. The first time we spoke on the phone he said I was just an equal hockey player, no more no less. I found that very rewarding and empowering , and it made me feel really good.
Over the years, Munro has had many positive influences that have helped her as a player and a person. While with the North Shore Avalanche of the North Shore Female Ice Hockey Association, Munro was first introduced to Jeff Eaton.
“I have two coaches who stayed with me,” Munro explains. “(Eaton) coached a lot with the North Shore Avalanche, got out there and did some skills with us. Finally, I was able to play for him with the [Pacific Steelers Junior Female
Hockey Club]. He is simply one of the most competent hockey players I know and he is very supportive of me. Coach Eaton just wants to see us succeed and he was the main reason I got my scholarship to Syracuse. I learned a lot of very good things thanks to him.
“The other coach was Delaney Collins. She coached me on the [U18 AAA]
Fraser Valley Rush my first year with the team.
Collins, a key defensive figure with Canada’s National Women’s Team in the 2000s, turned her 95 appearances and nine gold medals with the national team into coaching. Collins brought an impressive resume to practice, but also left Munro with a lasting message.
“(Collins) strongly believes in empowering women,” says Munro. “That we should be considered equal, not just in sport, but in everything. I learned from her how to be a confident woman. That there is nothing wrong with being strong and muscular, and not just delicate and delicate. She helped me find who I was as a goalkeeper and as a person. She was a great role model for me. »
“Kayla was a great person to work with,” Collins recalled. “Her leadership and energy were contagious, and her teammates could count on her to always compete. As a goaltender, she was extremely athletic, fast, and her puck play resembled that of a defenseman. She is fun to coach and is a great person and role model for young girls.
After everything Munro has been through over the past two years, she is well aware that plans can change quickly. However, in the future, the young goalkeeper has set goals.
“I want to finish my studies,” she says. ” It is very important for me. So for my future, it’s about furthering my education and probably getting a job, while hopefully playing hockey. Honestly, I’m grateful to be playing because there was a time when I didn’t know if I was going to be able to play hockey again.
Munro’s time with SFU will stand him in good stead in the game and also help him develop his life skills.
“It was an adjustment for her,” says Coletta. “For Kayla to adapt, I think it will serve her well once this year is over.
“She worked hard and was committed to us. She was ready to play a lot of minutes or to play as a substitute. Anything to prepare for a starting goalie spot somewhere next year, whether it’s back on the women’s side or not.
Through it all, Munro stayed strong through the challenges.
“Over the past few years, staying motivated has been my biggest challenge,” she says. “But I’m extremely happy where I am today. I’m very proud.”