Saturday night marks a special moment in the hockey career of Tamara Pickford.
Around 7 p.m. the puck will drop at center ice at the Father David Bauer Arena. For the next two and a half hours (roughly), Pickford and her University of British Columbia Thunderbirds will take on the University of Manitoba Bisons in CIS women’s hockey.
Pickford will skate a mile, provide typically stellar two-way play, and hopefully pot a goal or three. And when the final whistle blows, this chapter of her life will come to a close.
Pickford’s CIS career won’t technically be over, not until she plays a pair of road games in Saskatoon next weekend.
But in her mind, the final home game marks a symbolic turning of the page.
It will be a special night.
“Especially because we’re playing at the old arena and not the new one,” the Chilliwack native mused. “That makes it more significant to me because of all the things the team has done in that rink.”
Like the night three years ago when they beat the mighty University of Alberta.
“It was our goal to take down one of the top teams in the division, and they came in with all of their banners and national championships,” Pickford recalled. “We knew we could beat teams like that, but it wasn’t coming to a head. And all of a sudden, it happened and it is definitely one of the highlights of my time at UBC.”
Five years Pickford has played with the T-Birds. During that time, she’s been the oldest woman playing CIS hockey and one of the oldest women playing any CIS sport, period (there is, we’re told, a 45-year-old playing volleyball in Moncton).
Most of her teammates are 10 to 15 years her junior, making Pickford the very definition of a playing coach.
“The dynamic is great, and they’ve been like the sisters I never had,” said Pickford, who has one brother living in Yarrow and another in Ontario. “We have fun when we’re together, and these five years have helped me in knowing how to deal with younger athletes. They treat me with respect, and I do the same for them, because they’re not kids. They’re athletes, just like me.”
Pickford’s hockey playing days go back a long way.
At 18-years-old she was winning a women’s national championship with the Edmonton Chimos.
She played for the now-defunct National Women’s Hockey League Vancouver Griffins, playing with and against Olympians like Nancy Drolet, Cammi Granato and Hayley Wickenheiser. She had a stint in Ottawa with the NWHL Raiders and spent some time with the Western Women’s Hockey League BC Breakers.
She’s seen Wickenheiser frequently over the last five years, with Canada’s most renowned female hockey star suiting up for the UBC’s rivals, the University of Calgary Dinos.
“I was seven years old when I started playing hockey with my father and my brothers, and it’s become a part of my life,” she said. “It actually has been my life for the last 30 years because just about everything I’ve done has been geared towards helping me to play the highest levels of hockey. After all these years, I think my passion is double or even triple what it was when I first started playing. It’s such an unbelievable game.”
If all this sounds like a post-mortem on Pickford’s hockey career, it really shouldn’t.
While this weekend might mark the end of her on-ice exploits at UBC, there’s far more to come.
She leaves the university holding a degree in kinesiology, and she also has her ‘High Performance 1’ coaching certification.
Pickford’s been running a side business called Passion on Ice, providing on and off ice instruction to those who seek her out.
She’s heading to Chicago in the summer and young players in Whitefish, Montana, have benefited from her tutelage.
Maybe she’ll be a coach. Maybe she’ll be a trainer. Maybe, just maybe she’ll find a way to still be a player.
Pickford is exceedingly well suited to continue a career in hockey in one way or another.
“There’s so much more that I want to encounter in it (hockey), and I’ve realized there’s different avenues other than being a player,” she said. “I still love the game and I won’t ever give up. They’re not stopping me unless I’m on a stretcher or deathbed.
Along the way, she hopes to advance the cause of women’s hockey and open up doors that were closed to her.
“Cammi (Granato) and I talked in the past about gathering all the older BC players together to have a huge alumni game, maybe as a fundraising thing for a child foundation,” Pickford said, her voice bubbling with enthusiasm. “Maybe I’ll have time to organize it now. Trying to sell it is a big thing, both provincially, nationally and internationally. If I could train a national team overseas and play for a club team, playing at a high level while still doing my career? That would be the ultimate.”