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The state of female hockey is a focus for Lily Roberts, a forward with the Thompson-Okanagan Lakers U18 Female AAA team, who will be taking her game to the next level next season with the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology Trojans of Calgary in the Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference.

Roberts’ focus is not only on her own skills, but the future of women’s hockey and growing the game as she also coaches the U13 Lakers team in Vernon.

For her work, Roberts is selected as one of five Fred Heslop Minor Hockey Award recipients. The award recognizes volunteers who have made significant contributions to BC Hockey, their association and community – people who have enhanced programs, gone beyond expectations and made remarkable achievements.

The Heslop Award is named after past BC Hockey President and long-time volunteer, Fred Heslop, whose involvement with BC Hockey spanned more than two decades. The Trail, B.C. native served in many capacities on the board and in 2007, BC Hockey, awarded him the highest honour when he was presented with the Diamond Stick Award. Heslop passed away in late 2013, leaving a legacy behind him.

“It’s awesome to have all the work I’ve put in, with the teams I’ve been coaching, pay off,” said Roberts, who will also be competing with her Lakers AAA team, hosting the Esso Cup, the Women’s U18 AAA National Championship, from April 21-27, and is coming off a provincial championship in Langley. “The (U13) team, for the most part, is pretty new to hockey, so I’ve been going back to the basics with a lot of my coaching skills.

“It’s been awesome because a lot of the girls have come so far and it’s rewarding to see how far they’ve come in just one season.”

Roberts’ passion was also rewarded in 2023 as she was presented with the Female Leadership Award by the Greater Vernon Minor Hockey Association. It’s all because of the importance of growing female hockey.

“Growing up in minor hockey, starting in Langley and moving to Vernon, I’ve never had a female coach until this year, my final year. So I wanted Vernon Minor Hockey to have that female mentor because I feel like I’ve missed that,” she explained.

“It’s awesome being that person for the U13 girls this year. I can see that they totally look up to me, coming out to my games whenever they can, and it’s super awesome to know I’ve made an impact on them.”

She’s also brought some of the girls into the dressing room before her own games and they go through the pre-game rituals and even warmup with them on the ice.

“It’s so important to me and with the new PWHL, it’s growing even further,” Roberts said of the female game. “I’m honoured to be a part of that growth here in Vernon.”

Mario Annicchiarico is a freelance writer based in Victoria who has previously covered the National Hockey League’s Edmonton Oilers, as well as the Western Hockey League.