February 27, 2020
Kayla Blackmore's voice was raspier than usual on Wednesday, but she didn't mind a bit. 'Hoarse' play comes with the territory when you're yelling words of encouragement and cheering on the Rothesay Netherwood School Riverhawks' girls hockey team, which the former St. Thomas University Tommies women's hockey captain has been doing for the last seven seasons.
The Riverhawks were coming off an impressive performance, making it all the way to the final of the seven-team North American Prep Hockey Association season-ending tournament before falling to the five-time reigning champion - and host - Stanstead College Spartans 3-2 in overtime in a championship thriller.
"I don't think anybody expected us to get there, but the girls played their hearts out," Blackmore said. "Stanstead is one of the best prep schools in Canada, if not all of North America, so to show we can compete with them says a lot about our program, for sure."
Blackmore said the players dedicated this season to Maddy Murphy, the Quispamsis native who died on Sept. 16 from injuries suffered in a suicide attempt. She was 21. Murphy was a Riverhawk for three seasons.
"I was quite emotional after our last game," Blackmore said. "I told the girls 'this team felt really special to me.' Obviously having lost a former player early, I felt this year more than ever the team rallied around me as opposed to the coach being the leader. They looked after me in that situation, so there was a real special bond with this group early on."
Blackmore, 29, also teaches phys ed and health, and an online leadership program at RNS. She's been the prep school's director of athletics for the last three years.
"I've been so incredibly fortunate here at RNS," she said. "They've been willing to let me try whatever I'm interested in and give me opportunities to pursue my passions, whether that's through leadership or culture development or working with athletes.
"This job is everything all in one that I've ever wanted."
SomethingUNB men's hockey coach Gardiner MacDougall told Blackmore at a hockey school "when I was very young" stuck with her.
"He said 'You're going to be a person a lot longer than you're going to be a hockey player, so you need to figure out what kind of person you want to be,' " Blackmore said. "I think RNS is
a perfect environment to create good character, young leaders in our community.
"Before they even get here, the girls understand the most important thing is they're good friends, good daughters, good sisters, good teammates ... and from there, the hockey side will come."
The Fredericton native did it all at St. Thomas from 2008-2013: five-time Academic All- Canadian, four-time team MVP, two-time Atlantic University Sport all-star, two-time winner of the AUS student-athlete community service award. In her final season, she won the Marion Hilliard Award, given to a U Sport women’s hockey player for her accomplishments on the ice, in the classroom and the community.
There's more but need we say more? You get the idea.
"Of all the players who've come through our program, she's one of the players I'm proudest of," STU women's head hockey coach Peter Murphy said. "There was no doubt she was going to go on to do great things when she was done here."
Murphy sensed early that she was going to be "something special." In high school, Blackmore was training with the Tommies in the summer. She called the coach in August to see if she could have a meeting - and asked if she could bring her parents, Lise and Brent, along.
"They got out of the car and they were all dressed up like they were going to church," Murphy said. "I was wearing shorts and said, 'I feel a little undressed here.' Kayla said, 'No, no, that's OK.' We went into the classroom and she said 'I've enjoyed playing for you (on provincial teams), I was just wondering if there would be any interest in me coming to play for St. Thomas?'
"I said, 'Well, Kayla, what do you think the last two years (of training) has been?' " Murphy said. "She's a phenomenal student, a phenomenal athlete and, on top of all that, a better person. But she was never going to assume anything."
Blackmore was a Tommie with a capital T. She even named her dog Tommy and only lets the six-year-old golden retriever play with green toys.
"The one thing you lose when you start coaching is you lose your teammates," Blackmore said. "For five years, those girls at STU were my family, through thick and thin. There were some amazing times and celebrations and some times of heartbreak.
"Obviously when I think of STU, I think of home."
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