UNB signs first recruit to reinstated women's hockey team

Paige Grenier of Olds, Alta., is the first official recruit to the reinstated University of New Brunswick’s women’s hockey team, which will hit the ice next fall after a long battle.

Paige Grenier is captain of her AAA midget hockey team and has won gold at the Alberta Winter Games

Paige Grenier, 17, is the first player to sign a letter of intent to play with the Varsity Reds next fall. (Kirk Pennell/CBC)

Paige Grenier is the first official recruit for the University of New Brunswick's women's hockey team and she couldn't be more excited.

The 17-year old from Olds, Alta., is the first player to sign a U Sports letter of intent to hit the ice with the team next fall, 10 years after it was scrapped. 

Grenier said she's happy to be a part of the team, which will be coached by Sarah Hilworth, someone she already knows. 

"It's definitely pretty exciting to be the first one," Grenier said. "And I'm looking forward to watching as [Hilworth] builds the team and we get ready for the 2018-19 season."

Grenier flew to Fredericton on Friday to visit the UNB campus.

Hilworth and Varsity Reds staff met her in the new women's locker room to sign the papers, making her spot on the team official.

Grenier said it was "a bit of a leap of faith" signing to join a team that's on the opposite side of the country and not on the ice yet.

But it's no coincidence that she and Hilworth came to UNB from the same small town 90 kilometres north of Calgary. The two know each other well from hockey camps, which made UNB a no-brainer choice for the Grade 12 student.

"Moving forward, I have full confidence coming out here we'll put together a team that'll be competitive," Grenier said.

Paige Grenier signs a letter promising she'll be on the ice with the reinstated women's hockey team for the 2018-19 season. (Kirk Pennell/CBC)

The university was forced to restart the women's hockey program after reaching an agreement with the New Brunswick Human Rights Commission and former UNB women's hockey player Sylvia (Bryson) Dooley.

Dooley had filed a complaint with the Human Rights Commission about the university's 2008 decision to disband the varsity women's hockey hockey team it had operated since 2001 and give the program a lower club status.

Dooley argued the decision amounted to gender discrimination because UNB's men's hockey team was maintained.

The university announced in December a team would be on the ice for the 2018-19 season.

Leader in the making

With her first recruit under her wing, Hilworth said getting a team built is feeling more real.

Grenier is going into her final year of high school this fall. She's the captain of her triple-A women's team and has won gold at the Alberta Winter Games.

She's also hoping to represent her home province with a U-18 group this year.

Head coach Sarah Hilworth met the 17-year-old while coaching and putting on hockey camps in Olds, Alta., Grenier's hometown. (Kirk Pennell/CBC)

After coaching the Olds College Broncos for two seasons, Hilworth signed to build and coach UNB's new women's team — but couldn't leave Grenier behind.

"I'm extremely excited about Paige coming on campus and her being the first one to sign with us," Hilworth told CBC.

"You can't get a more well-rounded person and a well-rounded athlete to represent our program on the national stage."

Grenier, though she's young, will take on a leadership role from the start, Hilworth said.

"She'll be right in there, she'll be the one killing penalties, she'll be the one making big block shots," she said.

"She's selfless in her behaviour and always puts her team first. Her leadership as a 17-year-old is unquestionable."

Grenier's impact on her community and province drew the coach to the player, and Hilworth said she knows it will draw other players to the roster as well.

In June they hired a new head coach, today they recruited their first player. The new Women's Varsity Hockey team at UNB is starting to take shape. 0:59

Along with the new coach and players, new infrastructure is in the works for the team as well.

That includes the new locker room, a therapy room and a coaches room — a bonus for recruiters as they try to entice more players to sign on with the team for next fall.