Tri-City pipeline fuels York U field hockey program

Last year's team has seven players from the Tri-Cites. More are on the way

A pipeline connects western and eastern Canada, but this one doesn’t ignite passionate protests or cost taxpayers billions of dollars.

This pipeline moves field hockey players from Metro Vancouver to the York University Lions.

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Two of its latest exports, Port Moody Secondary School grad Caitlin Miller, and Heritage Woods Secondary goalkeeper Jade Lew, are heading to the Toronto campus in August. They’ll be joining a roster that had seven players from the Tri-Cities last season, when the Lions finished fourth in the Ontario University Athletics championships.

Lions coach Zeeshan Minhas said success breeds success. By giving players who travel across the country to pursue their athletic and academic aspirations a good experience, it encourages others to follow their friends and teammates.

That was certainly a factor for Miller and Lew.

Miller, a defender, said she talked with Alyssa Brooks, a Dr. Charles Best Secondary grad going into her second year at York who’s also from Port Moody, and liked what she heard.

“She talked about how much fun she had over the year,” Miller said. “It’s like a family.”

Lew will be following the footsteps of another goalkeeper from Heritage Woods, Alicia Gray, who won 19 games, lost five and tied two in her five-year career at York.

She said she liked the close-knit vibe of the university’s athletic community that is comprised of only about 500 student-athletes. It will also bring her nearer to her older sister Jasmine, who’s a long-jumper at the University of Toronto.

Minhas said while York’s sports programs are often in the shadows of bigger Ontario schools like U of T, Queen’s and Western, he cultivates the Lions’ underdog reputation by looking for top players on second-tier teams that aren’t necessarily competing for provincial championships year after year.

“It shows me what kind of character she has,” Minhas said. “These kids who are still fighting hard and not giving up can handle adversity.”

He said incoming players who are still looking for team success are often more eager to learn.

“They’re pretty open-minded,” he said. “My message is simple, if you’re good enough, you’re going to get playing time.”

Like many of their predecessors from the Tri-Cities, Miller and Lew are also linked by their long-time participation in the Tri-City Eagles club program.

Miller started playing field hockey when she was five years old to stay connected with her ice hockey teammates, who all migrated to the pitch when their season on skates was finished.

Lew took to the sport when she was seven, as her mom Raquel Chin was a coach. She said the early start has given her the time to develop her skills and absorb field hockey’s technical aspects.

Miller said she grew to love the game’s sportsmanlike ethos.

“It’s a good community,” she said. “You know all the players.”

Minhas said the early introduction to field hockey many players get in B.C. is an advantage over players from back east who generally don’t take to the sport until they’re in Grade 8 or 9. Metro Vancouver’s mild winters also mean they can play nine months of the year.

“Kids in B.C. have more basic skills,” he said. “That’s definitely an edge.”

Miller, who will be studying social sciences, and Lew, who’s enrolled in biology, said they’re eager to launch their post-secondary careers, although how that will look is still a little up in the air as the COVID-19 pandemic plays out through the next several months. But with exhibition matches not scheduled until mid-August, there’s still time for things to settle down into a semblance of normalcy.

Minhas said he’s also eager to get started with his new recruits.

“I think I can teach them to be a professional,” he said. “I’m going to make them a better player and be a professional in real life.”

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