2024 esso cup lakers sitter roberts
© Dean Kalyan/BC Hockey

Growing the women’s game in Vernon

As Vernon, B.C., looks towards hosting the 2024 Esso Cup, several of the Thompson-Okanagan Lakers are helping to grow the women’s game as coaches

Shannon Coulter
February 14, 2024

Two years ago, the Greater Vernon Minor Hockey Association (GVMHA) decided to make growing women’s hockey a priority. Thanks to initiatives like Esso Fun Days and coaching programs, the growth has been significant.

Let’s put that growth into perspective: Last year, Vernon had U9, U11 and U15 girls’ teams. This year, the association has girls’ teams in every division except U18, which will be operating next year once the U15 players graduate—an estimated growth of 100 more girls lacing up their skates in the region.

“It’s getting to a point now that the volume of girls really supports an elite stream of hockey development, which for us is really the first time we’ve had it,” says Kevin Bathurst, director of hockey operations for the GVMHA and co-chair of the 2024 Esso Cup.

Thanks to a grant last year, the GVMHA was able to run a women’s coach development program in the summer, specifically targeting the U15 age group.

“[The U15 group is] a pretty passionate group of pretty good players, and [we’re trying] to create a pathway for them to stay in the game as long as possible,” Bathurst says. “We’ve got more women coaching in our community now than we’ve ever had.”

Several members of the Thompson-Okanagan Lakers, host team of this year’s Esso Cup, are actively coaching younger teams in their region. Lily Roberts, a four-year veteran of the Lakers, has been coaching for three years and currently works with a U13 team in Vernon.

“I really wanted to get into coaching just to change perspectives,” Roberts says. “[Growing up,] if I had that woman to look up to, I would feel much more comfortable learning and asking questions, and I’d feel more inclined to do what the coach is saying.”

Roberts decided to pursue coaching for a full season after being invited to help at a hockey camp over the summer. The 17-year-old reached out to see if she could coach the upcoming season and it worked out that her younger sister wanted to start playing.

“At the beginning, she was kind of hesitant listening to her sister as her coach, but after time, I think she thinks it’s really cool to have me out there,” Roberts says.

Hailey Sitter has always loved working with kids and got into coaching by assisting with summer camps. A sophomore member of the Lakers, the 16-year-old is an assistant coach with a U7 team in Lumby.

“I heard that there was a couple of girls struggling with having fun out on the ice out in Lumby, so I figured that I would go and spend a couple of ice times with them to see if I could hopefully change that and help them have some fun,” Sitter says. “That turned into me every Wednesday going out and coaching them.”

Sitter has been coaching for almost a year, and it’s the joy on her players’ faces when they are having fun and improving their skills that keeps her passionate to be a coach.

“To me, if the kids are having fun, they’re going to look forward to showing up to the rink,” she says.

When Sitter first started playing hockey, her team was coached by three women, including her mom. She didn’t realize the impact of that experience at the time, but reflecting back, Sitter says she viewed them as role models.

“As I got older and I started to see women coaches, I really looked up to them and I really wanted to work as hard as I could to get to where they were and to be as good as they were,” Sitter says. “I think that’s really cool that I can do that for some of these younger girls.”

It’s a busy schedule to balance school work, Lakers practices and coaching, but Roberts and Sitter credit time management and not procrastinating to stay organized. Having the opportunity to see the game from a coaching perspective has also opened up a new way to view the game as a player.

“I’ve noticed when I’m explaining something to one of my younger kids, it doesn’t always click the first time,” Sitter explains. “When I’m explaining it, I’m also breaking it down more. I’m explaining it simpler, which I’ve noticed that helps me when I go to do this skill in my practice.”

Lily Roberts holding the Outstanding Female Leadership Award.Lily Roberts holding the Outstanding Female Leadership Award. Photo credit: GVMHA

Through her dedication to game, Roberts became the first recipient of the Outstanding Female Leadership Award from the GVMHA, an award recently created to continue to encourage the growth of the women’s game in the region.

“I am super grateful to be the very first recipient of it,” Roberts says. “It’s a great feeling to know that I’m helping create the next generation of women’s hockey players, especially in Vernon.”

With the 2024 Esso Cup being hosted in Vernon from April 21-27, Roberts is ecstatic that she will finish her time as a Laker competing for Canada’s Women’s U18 National Club Championship on home ice before she begins at the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology (SAIT) in the fall.

“I’ve always dreamed of being in the Esso Cup when I was little,” Roberts says. “It’s so crazy that it’s happening here in my hometown.”

The tournament is also another opportunity to continue to grow the women’s game in the Okanagan.

“To have those young players have the opportunity to see the highest level of hockey on an amateur hockey in terms of minor hockey in our country, I think it’s only going to increase the number of registrations across the board,” Bathurst says. “It’s an exciting time for the next generation of women’s players in the Okanagan and we’re really excited about it.”

For more information:

Esther Madziya
Manager, Communications
Hockey Canada

(403) 284-6484 

[email protected] 

Spencer Sharkey
Manager, Communications
Hockey Canada

(403) 777-4567

[email protected]

Jeremy Knight
Manager, Corporate Communications
Hockey Canada

(647) 251-9738

[email protected]

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