Sarah Thompson’s a sophomore forward playing hockey at Syracuse University with a mission to make an impact both on and off the ice. She grew up playing street hockey with her friends in Orleans but will now take the game to Argentina in May to help grow the sport through her project Sticks Together.
After her parents signed her up for hockey when she was 6 years old, Sarah fell in love with the sport.
That love blossomed into her starting Sticks Together, where she will be bringing equipment to underprivileged youth in Argentina to share and teach the game of hockey.
Majoring in sports management, Sarah’s also an intern with the Syracuse Crunch, the AHL affiliate of the Tampa Bay Lightning. We caught up with Sarah to discuss growing up in Ottawa, her hockey journey, and her project, Sticks Together.
What was it like growing up in Ottawa?
I’m so fortunate to have grown up in Ottawa and played youth hockey in one of Canada’s biggest hotbeds. I grew up learning to play on the streets in the summer and on the outdoor rinks in the winter. Fortunately for me, there were a dozen outdoor rinks within walking distance and a bunch of young kids like me to play with. Given the impressive amount of youth hockey associations in Ottawa, I had the chance to play with and compete against some of the best players in the country.
How did you get into playing hockey?
My parents put me into Timbits hockey when I was six years old. I absolutely fell in love with the game and the remarkable feeling of scoring a goal. My passion for the game flourished through street hockey and trading hockey cards with the boys in my neighbourhood. By the time I was about 10, I had played in AAA spring tournaments and decided I wanted to train and play the game year-round.
Why did you choose to attend Syracuse?
I chose Syracuse University because it was everything I had ever dreamed of. I had the opportunity to pursue an education in sport management at a top-tier university while playing a DI sport for an impressive NCAA athletics program. Although, I think what drew me most to Syracuse was its undeniable spirit. Students, staff, and people in the Syracuse community are eager to donate their orange and support ’Cuse. All that to say, the best part about being a Syracuse Women’s Ice hockey player is my teammates. I may not have known it when I committed here, but my ‘Cuse Ice family would become the best thing that came from my decision.
How special was it to be a part of Canada’s U18 team?
Putting on the Hockey Canada jersey was a feeling like no other. It was a fantastic, humbling experience to compete with and against the top hockey players in the world. The U18 Women’s World Championship was an experience of a lifetime. I met some of the most amazing and impressive people and learned much about myself and what hockey means to me.
You’re currently interning with the Tampa Bay Lightning’s AHL team – Syracuse Crunch. What’s that like?
Working with the Syracuse Crunch has been an incredible learning experience. Under the direction of Jim Sarosy, the Chief Operating Officer of the Syracuse Crunch, I’ve had the opportunity to get hands-on experience in all aspects of event management in professional hockey. Jim has been a wonderful mentor and has been extremely generous with his time, knowledge and dedication to help me learn and develop. I am beyond grateful for the opportunity to learn and work with such an enthusiastic and motivated staff and for a leading AHL hockey club.
What do you like to do when you’re not working or playing hockey?
When I’m not on the ice, studying or working, I like to spend time with my friends/teammates. I enjoy getting a bite to eat with the girls or hanging out and watching a movie. We don’t have much free time as student-athletes, so I’ve learned to enjoy the little moments. As silly as it sounds, I look forward to little things like our Thursday night frozen yogurt at Sweet Frog; the froyo only lasts a few minutes, but the chatter lasts much longer.
What are some of your favourite things to do when you’re in Ottawa?
One of my favourite things to do when I go home is to hit the Byward Market. I love walking around, checking out the market, grabbing a bite to eat and exploring the nightlife. I always look forward to getting on the ice and in the gym with the girls I grew up playing with from Ottawa. Although, what I enjoy most about going home is going for long drives and getting into some car karaoke with my sister!
Who’s been a significant influence in your life or someone you look up to?
My mom’s been the greatest leader in my life. Although she may not be an elite athlete, she has given me every opportunity to pursue my dream of becoming one myself. She has shown me strength and courage off the ice, which has helped me find that on the ice. My mom, a teacher at Our Lady of Wisdom Catholic School, always puts others before herself and puts so much effort into impacting those around her, especially her students. I wouldn’t be where I am today without her.
International Women’s Day was March 8th. How happy are you with the growth of women’s sports, and what changes would you like to see to bring more exposure?
I’m incredibly proud of all the efforts that the women at the professional level are making to grow the game. The current professional hockey leagues are pushing to set the standard for representation of women’s sports. I would love to see more coverage of women’s hockey and for management to continue to be aggressive when it comes to marketing to stay competitive in the global market.
Where did the idea for Sticks Together come from?
I’ve been planning on partaking in a volunteer trip for well over a year now. I had come across a volunteer abroad organization that offers a variety of sports volunteer opportunities that help foster a healthy, active lifestyle for those living in under-resourced communities. I wanted to grow my impact by starting a project that would give kids the chance to learn to play a new sport.
In many low-income communities worldwide, kids miss out on the opportunity to play sports in school with their peers due to the lack of qualified physical education teachers and insufficient funding. The hockey community is strong and giving. I was confident that I could collect enough sticks and equipment to donate to a school that would need them. My mission through Sticks Together is to give every kid the opportunity to play and find something they are passionate about.
You’re spending 3 weeks in Argentina to help grow the sport of hockey. What are you looking forward to most about that opportunity?
I’m looking forward to connecting with the kids and teaching them the game I love. I’m excited to teach them how to stickhandle, pass, shoot, and celebrate when they score! With that said, I also look forward to learning from them and playing the sports that they love.
How can people help with “Sticks Together”?
You can support Sticks Together by donating to my GoFundMe found on my website, www.stickstogether.org, or by sharing on social media! Any support of this project is greatly appreciated.