Dalhousie hockey player Sarah MacNeil a portrait of strength in the face of adversity

Having won the Atlantic University Sport version of the Marion Hilliard Award for two consecutive years, Sarah MacNeil has helped establish a gold standard, while exemplifying the great humanitarian spirt of women’s hockey. Despite her fifth and final season with the Dalhousie Tigers ending abruptly with an ankle injury on January 2, 2016 at the Theresa Humes Invitational in Montreal, as she was tangled up with a player and going blades-first into the boards. One could argue that the remainder of the season may have been her finest hour.

Refusing to wallow in self-pity after suffering said injury, one that resulted in foot surgery and a cast, MacNeil was still present at games, lending moral support. While the biggest aspect of injury is dealing with the reality that one requires assistance from others during the recovery process, MacNeil has handled it with admirable dignity.

Taking into account that the Tigers are like a second family, she found other ways to contribute to the team with feedback and encouragement, all part of a positive attitude that is testament to her strong leadership skills. Bringing her trademark smile to the rink every day, she was named an assistant captain during the 2014-15 campaign, leading the team cheer before games, while stirring the team with high energy.

Such values were evident when she competing for her home province of Nova Scotia (also the host province)at the 2011 Canada Winter Games, she would quickly earn a reputation as one of the hardest working players on the ice.
Upon coming to Dalhousie, perhaps more impressive was her accomplishments off the ice. Specializng in Recreation Management, she earned the honor of being recognized on four separate occasions as one of Dalhousie’s Academic All-Canadians. Such exceptional dedication was extending into the community, proudly serving as the Tigers liaison for community volunteering and fundraising.

MacNeil’s presence was nothing short of remarkable. Charities that benefitted from her heart of gold included Operation Christmas Child, the Easter Seals sledge hockey program, the Salvation Army’s Christmas Kettle campaign, plus the North End Parent Resource Centre in Halifax. As a side note, she was also part of the ‘La Coupe Mustache’ charity hockey game, in which net funds raised went towards both breast and prostate cancer research.

In addition, MacNeil was involved with a pair of terrific team initiatives. Among them included her efforts with the Chronicle Herald Holiday Parade of Lights, part of a fundraising initiative for the program Elevate—dedicated towards ensuring Atlantic Canadian athletes can accomplish their dreams of international competition. She has also brought betterment to the hockey community by donating her time towards the Hockey Players for Kids (HP4K) for two consecutive years, a two-month long reading competition at a local elementary school. ,

That dedication to her team and her community, which included her role as a student-at-large board member for Recreation Nova Scotia, were significant factors in bestowing the honor of the AUS version of the Marion Hilliard Award upon her once again. In AUS history, she becomes only the third competitors to earn the Award in consecutive years, joining Saint Mary’s Kori Cheverie and Kayla Blackmore of St. Thomas.

While the sun sets on MacNeil’s proud Tigers hockey career, she plans on remaining active, with an eye towards triathlons. Representing tremendous ambition and drive, MacNeil is destined to remain a significant part of sport in Nova Scotia as an internship with Sports Entertainment Atlantic will see her work towards bringing the men’s basketball CIS Final 8 Tournament a successful one, as Halifax shall be the host city for 2017. Although Tigers hockey will not be the same without MacNeil, her legacy is one that helped define a positive and empowering era for the program, while setting a proud standard for future players to emulate.