High Schools Hockey Junior Leagues

HIGH ACHIEVERS: Sacred Heart’s Hillary Sterling earns hockey/academic scholarships to St. Lawrence University

Read More in this series on Ottawa’s HIGH SCHOOL BEST here.

Hillary Sterling. Photo provided

By Martin Cleary

Hillary Sterling has scored the biggest goal of her hockey career, earning athletic and international scholar scholarships to attend St. Lawrence University.

If that heart-warming ‘goal’ were to have two assists, just like a real game, they could go to her coaches, teachers or teammates. But in this case, it should be her parents for more than the obvious reasons.

Ian and Tanya Sterling have driven Hillary from their home in Richmond to games, practices and tournaments, supported her pursuit of hockey, and covered the required bills. But there’s something else.

Her parents went the extra kilometre and gave their three children an outdoor rink for hockey or figure skating. Ian, a former competitive hockey player, has built a 60-x40-foot rink every year for the past 16 years.

And Ian and Tanya, a former competitive figure skater, share shovelling the snow and flooding the surface for the next round of pick-up hockey, creative ice games or sessions to improve jumps or footwork.

“When we were younger, we would spend a lot of time out there, no matter what the temperature was,” Sterling explained in an email interview. “My siblings and I would play hockey and invent other skating games.

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“We live in the country, so it provided a gathering place for friends as well. I have spent countless hours practising my shot and stick handling on it, but for the most part, it was where we played shinny.

“Having an outdoor rink allowed me to practise, but I think it was a place where we would just have fun. I think that is why I love the game so much.”

Sterling brought her love of the outdoor game to the indoors and has developed into a top-quality forward. She played 13 years with the Nepean Girls Hockey Association and three years at Sacred Heart Catholic High School.

Since 2018, Sterling has been part of the Ontario Women’s Hockey Association high-performance program, which presented her with various camps and strength and conditioning sessions for three seasons.

That provincial program allowed her to compete in the Ontario Summer Games, where her team won a bronze medal, and travel with Team Ontario U16 to Yokohama, Japan, to represent Canada in the 2019 Challenge Series.

Last summer, she was invited to attend the development camp for the Canadian U18 team, which was aiming for the world championship. But the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic cancelled the in-person camp and worlds.

“We met virtually over the course of the summer and discussed topics such as training, nutrition, hockey skills. Hockey Canada did a fantastic job of keeping us involved and focused on the potential of the tryout and the world championships,” Sterling added.

“It was not totally unexpected when the cancellation happened, but it was still devastating. As a 17-year-old, it really is the opportunity you have to make Team Canada and wear the jersey. It has been a tough year with cancellations. All I can do is continue to train hard for university and hope that I will once again be selected to try out for Team Canada.”

Read More: ‘Frightening’ lack of attention to women’s sport in government pandemic relief funding – OHL scholarship subsidy & cancelling of women’s hockey events while men’s go on show ‘biases baked into our institutions’

Sterling also experienced cancellations for her final seasons in the Provincial Women’s Hockey League (Nepean Junior Wildcats) and the National Capital Secondary School Athletic Association (Sacred Heart Huskies).

But the Wildcats did have modified practices and played some exhibition games against the Ottawa Lady Sens.

“It was definitely a major letdown,” she wrote about the lost seasons. “Not playing high school hockey also was very discouraging.”

Hillary Sterling on the Nepean Jr. Wildcats’ “senior day”. File photo

In her final PWHL season with the Wildcats, Sterling had 13 goals, including three game winners, and 15 assists in 38 games. Her post season was limited to three games, but she notched two goals.

A two-way player who is noted for seeing the ice well and generating scoring chances, Sterling was team captain and MVP for both the girls’ ice hockey and field hockey teams at Sacred Heart.

During her years with Nepean, she helped her teams win many tournaments and league titles as well as two gold and one bronze medals at the OWHA provincial championships.

When Sterling graduates from Sacred Heart, she’ll be remembered for her many talents. An honour roll student, she will leave with a French Immersion certificate and was the student council co-president in 2020-21.

Athletically, she played as many sports as she could at Sacred Heart, helped the Huskies win two NCSSAA ice hockey titles and play in two OFSAA championships and was named senior athlete of the year for 2019-20.

Sterling plans to study biochemistry at St. Lawrence University in Canton, New York. She enjoys studying the sciences and wants to use that avenue “to help people and/or the environment.”

Read More in this series on Ottawa’s HIGH SCHOOL BEST here.

Martin Cleary has written about amateur sports for 50 years. A past Canadian sportswriter of the year and Ottawa Sports Awards Lifetime Achievement in Sport Media honouree, Martin retired from full-time work at the Ottawa Citizen in 2012, but continued to write a bi-weekly “High Achievers” column for the Citizen/Sun.

When the pandemic struck, Martin created the High Achievers “Stay-Safe Edition” to provide some positive news during tough times, via his Twitter account at first and now here at OttawaSportsPages.ca.

Martin can be reached by e-mail at martincleary51@gmail.com and on Twitter @martincleary.

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