Sophie Grawbarger builds on Jana Headrick’s legacy with Varsity Blues hockey


As one university hockey player from Garden River First Nation graduates, another from the community will join the same team, continuing the legacy. 

Jana Headrick is halfway through her fourth and final year of her undergraduate studies and plays on the University of Toronto’s Varsity Blues women’s hockey team. She is hoping to pursue graduate studies in public health.

She’s been playing hockey since she was three years old. Her father, a hockey player himself, signed her up. 

Headrick said she didn’t enjoy the sport at first.

“I think I just wanted to be in dance or figure skating or something more girly,” she said.

But her father pushed her to stay committed until she was 10 before making a decision to stay or leave. By the time she was 10, she was in love with the sport and the team she was on.

“I was playing on an all-girls team so I had a whole lot of friends and I liked that better than when I was playing when I was younger.”

Jana Headrick has been playing hockey since she was three. (Submitted by Jana Headrick)

Years later she was offered an athletic scholarship with the University of Toronto to play on the Varsity Blues women’s hockey team. That has provided her with the opportunity to travel and compete. 

“The challenge at the level that I’m playing at now, it’s definitely one of the reasons why I do it,” she said. 

But her commitment to the team and university wasn’t without its challenges. 

Between adjusting to university life and being away from home, to balancing classes and trying to figure out her role on the team, the first year was a difficult one for Headrick. 

She persevered, and is now in her final year on the team. During her four years she has been the only First Nations girl on the team.

Headrick said Garden River First Nation near Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., is “definitely a hockey community,” and has produced players like former NHL player Ted Nolan and his sons Brandon and Jordan. 

“There’s always words of encouragement from everyone back home and they’re really happy that we’re being successful,” she said.

So it’s not surprising that as Headrick is ready to move on from the U of T team, another girl from her community will be playing on the team next year. 

Excited for university

Sophie Grawbarger was five when her father signed her up to play hockey and she wasn’t sure if she would like it. 

“I stuck with it and just kept playing over the years and fell in love with the game,” said Grawbarger. 

“It came easy, it’s so fun and it brings me a lot of good experiences like travelling.”

Sophie Grawbarger of Garden River says she is looking forward to playing hockey at the University of Toronto. (Submitted by Jessica Grawbarger)

She was offered an athletic scholarship to U of T and immediately said yes. 

“It was amazing because it showed that all my hard work and dedication paid off and I’m able to continue my hockey career,” said Grawbarger. 

She plans on studying history and Indigenous studies. She said she’s excited to see what it’s like to live alone in a big city. 

Since sharing her plans to move to Toronto and play with the Varsity Blues, Grawbarger says she’s been receiving lots of support from Garden River.

“Everyone is proud of me and they’re looking forward to what I do in Toronto,” she said. 

“I’m looking forward to starting a new chapter in my life and being able to play on a really competitive team at a high level.”

Sophie Grawbarger has been playing hockey since she was five. (Submitted by Jessica Grawbarger)

As Grawbarger gets ready to leave Garden River for school, Headrick had a few words of advice for her.

“Be patient with everything that goes on in hockey, and it’ll take a while to find your role, but once you have it, stick with it .And create little support systems in Toronto,” she said. 

“Enjoy your time while you’re here because it’s definitely something really exciting and really amazing to be able to experience.”


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