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The COVID-19 pandemic changed Kayla Munro’s post-secondary plans, but the goaltender landed on her skates at Simon Fraser University, making a little history in the process

The past two years have been anything but normal for Kayla Munro. Like many
athletes, the young goaltender’s daily life was shaken up by the global
pandemic, as seasons were cancelled and restrictions were put in place. The
challenge to find avenues to be able to play hockey became difficult.

For Munro, her journey to continue to play hockey has led her to the unique
path of joining the Simon Fraser University (SFU) men’s hockey team. The
result has been a talented young hockey player being able to continue in
the sport while breaking through barriers.

“I didn’t know if I was going to get to play hockey again,” says Munro. “I
am just grateful right now to be playing on the SFU team.”

SFU and Munro had a fantastic 2021-22 British Columbia Intercollegiate
Hockey League (BCIHL) regular season, going undefeated with a perfect
12-0-0 record. For Munro, she made history throughout the season. She first
jotted her name into the BCIHL history books as the first woman to ever
play in a league pre-season game on Sept. 25, 2021, when she entered in the
third period to take the net versus the Okanagan Lakers. She had a solid
outing, stopping 13 of 14 shots in the frame. Munro next made her mark on
Oct. 16, 2021, when she became the first woman to start a BCIHL exhibition
game, also against the Lakers.

“I was a little bit nervous,” Munro says of seeing her first game action.
“Honestly, I hadn’t thought about it as being a big 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 shoulder surgery. I talked to a
sports psychologist and have learned some really good ways to control my
nerves and make them a driving force of how well I play. Although a little
nervous, I felt prepared.”

Munro’s crowning achievement, to this point, was on Feb. 5, 2022, when she
became the first woman to ever play in a regular season BCIHL game. The
19-year-old took the crease 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 it. Her goal was to play
NCAA hockey, and it appeared she had attained that lofty accomplishment
when she committed to Syracuse University in New York on a hockey
scholarship in 2019.

“It was honestly a dream come true to get the scholarship to Syracuse,”
says the product of North Vancouver, B.C. “It had been my goal to play in
the NCAA since I started playing hockey. In my opinion, other than the
Olympics, it is one of the highest levels you can get for female hockey.”

However, as the world locked down and sports changed, so did Munro’s plans
as she chose to stay home with 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 a
semester, but then I decided just to stay home. [Syracuse head coach Paul
Flanagan] was supportive. He is an amazing guy. He wants the best for you,
and he told me that he wanted whatever made me happy and what was best for
my mental health.”

Once Munro decided to stay home in British Columbia, she was left looking
for a university to continue her studies. Additionally, she was hoping to
find a place to play hockey, a difficult task given all of the restrictions
in place associated with the pandemic.

“I applied to Simon Fraser University and was accepted,” says Munro.

With her schooling plans secured, she began looking at hockey options.

“I began looking at everything. Even if they had an intramural team or
house league, I just wanted to keep playing.

“I found that SFU had a men’s hockey team and so I emailed [head coach Mark
Coletta] asking if I could try out. I told him a little about myself, the
teams I played on and the level that I’ve gotten to in hockey. He was
really supportive right away.”

“Kayla needed a spot to play,” says Coletta. “I let her know that she was
more than welcome to come try out, and if you’re good enough to play,
you’ll play. Given her predicament, we wanted to give her a shot.”

The tryout for Munro was successful and after a training camp, she was
included on the 2021-22 roster for SFU.

“She can play hockey,” adds Coletta. “She’s technically very good between
the pipes, she moves around very well. So, making sure she adapts well is
the important thing.”

Coletta was clear that Munro made his squad on the merits of her play. He
views her as a hockey player, with no designation of gender.

“Kayla’s a tremendous person,” he says. “She’s proven every day that she
comes ready to work and play.”

Not being treated any differently is something Munro has valued from
Coletta.

“He believes that the best players should be on this team,” says the
goaltender. “It doesn’t matter if you’re a girl or a guy. The first time
when we talked on the phone, he said that I was just an equal hockey
player, no more or 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 person. While she was with the North Shore Avalanche of the
North Shore Female Ice Hockey Association, Munro was first introduced to
Jeff Eaton.

“I have two coaches that have stuck with me,” says Munro. “(Eaton) coached
a lot with the North Shore Avalanche, came out and did skills with us.
Eventually, I got to play for him with the [Pacific Steelers Junior Female
Hockey Club]. He’s just one of the most knowledgeable hockey people that I
know, and so supportive. Coach Eaton just wants to see us succeed and he
was the biggest reason why I got my scholarship to Syracuse. I learned a
lot of really good things from 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 fixture on defence with Canada’s National Women’s Team during
the 2000s, transitioned her 95 appearances and nine gold medals with the
national team into coaching. Collins brought an impressive resume to
coaching but also left Munro with a lasting message.

“(Collins) is a big believer in women being empowered,” says Munro. “That
we should be considered equal, not just in sports, but everything. I
learned from her how to be a confident woman. That it’s okay to be strong
and have muscles, and not just be dainty and delicate. She helped me find
who I was as a goalie and a person. She was a really big role model for
me.”

“Kayla was an amazing individual to work with,” recalls Collins. “Her
leadership and energy were infectious, and her teammates could count on her
to always compete. As a goalie, she was extremely athletic, quick and her
puck play was similar to a defender. She is fun to coach and is a great
person and role model for young girls.”

After everything Munro has experienced over the last two years, she is well
aware that plans can change quickly. However, going forward, the young
goaltender has set some goals.

“I want to finish my schooling,” she says. “That’s very important to me.
So, for my future, it is continuing my schooling and likely getting a job,
while hopefully playing hockey. Honestly, I am grateful to be playing
because there was a point I didn’t know if I was going to get to play
hockey again.”

Munro’s time with SFU will serve her well in the game, and additionally to
help build life skills.

“This has been an adjustment for her,” says Coletta. “For Kayla to be able
to adapt, I think it will serve her well once this year is over.

“She’s worked hard and made a commitment to us. She was ready to play a lot
of minutes or play the backup role. Anything to prepare herself for a spot
as a starting goalie somewhere next year, whether it’s back on the female
side or not.”

Through it all, Munro has stayed strong through the challenges.

“During the last few years just staying motivated was my biggest
challenge,” she says. “But I’m extremely happy where I am today. I’m very
proud.”

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