https://www.thestar.com/sports/opinion/2022/03/06/celebrating-22-influential-canadians-in-sports-ahead-of-international-womens-day.html

Influence comes in all forms in the world of sports.

Some pull strings behind the scenes, others play an integral part on the sidelines, and there are the athletes who inspire the next generation to think maybe, just maybe, they can do it too.

Tuesday is International Women’s Day, and we’re celebrating 22 of those influential Canadian women: women who continue to break down barriers in an industry that is often still not welcoming, where their presence is far from the norm; and women who show young girls they can stay in the game, that the rate of participation in sport by Canadians girls doesn’t have to continue to decline.

It is far from an exhaustive list of all the powerhouse Canadian women in sports.

As we wrote a year ago, the presence of these women and the influence they have doesn’t mean there isn’t work still to be done. The sports world is not yet at a point where being a woman and a scout, or a general manager, or an agent, is normalized. The roles women tend to occupy in sport are at a lower level than those of their male counterparts. The pipelines do not exist to consistently produce female candidates. Diversity is wanting, in sports and on this list. And media coverage of women’s sport in general is still severely lacking.

Highlighting women’s successes one day, or month, a year is not going to change these foundational issues. But International Women’s Day remains an opportunity to celebrate some of the most influential Canadian women in sports today, role models who use their sway to create a better environment for all the people who will come after them.

And there’s sure to be more, if these women have anything to say about it.

Elizabeth Benn

Director of major-league operations, New York Mets

Benn has long paved paths for women in baseball. The Toronto native was the first woman to play in the New York Metro Baseball League., and she has worked in the Major League Baseball office since 2017, starting as an intern and taking on roles from labour relations, diversity and inclusion to baseball development and operations. Benn is the highest-ranked female baseball operations employee in Mets history.

Émilie Castonguay

Assistant general manager, Vancouver Canucks

Castonguay made the jump from being the first female agent certified by the NHL Players’ Association — representing such clients as New York Rangers winger Alexis Lafrenière and Olympic star Marie-Philip Poulin — to being the first female assistant general manager in Vancouver Canucks history in January. The Montreal native will play a lead role in player contracts and negotiations, and will manage the collective bargaining agreement.

Stephanie Dixon

Chef de mission, Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games

The 19-time Paralympic Games swimming medallist has a number of other titles on her resumé, including coach, mentor, speaker, broadcaster and advocate for inclusivity. The Whitehorse native continues to be a strong presence in the para sport community in Canada and globally. Dixon is working toward a master’s degree in kinesiology at the University of Toronto.

Lisa Ferkul

Chief marketing officer, Golf Canada

Ferkul, a Toronto resident, will join Golf Canada later this month after spending more than 10 years at Scotiabank, most recently as director and head of Canadian sponsorship marketing, where she worked on the development of Scotiabank’s diversity, equity and inclusion strategy in hockey, the growth of the bank’s community hockey programming, and the negotiation of a landmark $800 million MLSE partnership expansion that included the naming rights of Scotiabank Arena.

Leylah Fernandez

Tennis player

She was one of Canada’s best sports stories over the past 12 months, named The Canadian Press female athlete of the year for 2021 after reaching the U.S. Open final as a 19-year-old. But the Montreal teen hasn’t just arrived as a powerhouse on the court. Fernandez has also shown business savvy since her breakout performance in Flushing Meadows, inking endorsement deals with such companies as Gatorade, Google, Lululemon, Canadian carrier Flair Airlines and racquet company Babolat.

Danielle Goyette

Director of player development, Maple Leafs and Marlies

Goyette, a two-time Olympic gold medallist in women’s hockey, joined former teammate Hayley Wickenheiser in leading the Leafs’ development staff last May. The Saint-Nazaire, Que., native previously spent 14 seasons as head coach of the University of Calgary Dinos women’s hockey team. Goyette also became the first female assistant coach in ECHL history last month, when she served in a temporary role for the Newfoundland Growlers after head coach Eric Wellwood entered COVID-19 protocols.

Kayla Grey

TSN broadcaster, host and co-producer of The Shift

Grey launched a new show on TSN called The Shift last May. The biweekly digital program, like its host and co-producer, doesn’t shy away from any topic that touches sport, like confronting racism or social justice issues. Grey also juggles duties as an anchor and courtside reporter on TSN’s Raptors broadcasts. The Scarborough native will be an inaugural recipient of the Academy of Canadian Cinema and Television’s changemaker award this spring.

Gina Kingsbury

General manager, Canada’s women’s hockey team

As Canada looked to return to the top of the Olympic podium in women’s hockey, it turned to a former player in Kingsbury, a two-time gold medallist. Her hire, in July 2018, paid off last month with a gold medal in Beijing. The native of Uranium City, Sask., took risks that paid off, like inviting 10 first-time Olympians to play in China.

Stephanie Labbé

Retired Canadian soccer goalkeeper

She’s half of a Canadian sport power couple — her fiancée, Georgia Simmerling, is also on this list — but Labbé became a household name this year after her penalty shootout heroics led the country’s women’s soccer team to Olympic gold for the first time in program history. Labbé, long a mental health advocate, is also dedicated to pushing for a professional women’s soccer league in Canada while growing the sport in her home province of Alberta.

Brigette Lacquette

Pro scout, Chicago Blackhawks

The Mallard, Man., native, the first First Nations woman to play hockey for Canada at the Winter Olympics in 2018, joined the Blackhawks as a scout last summer. She is the first Indigenous woman to scout for an NHL team. Chicago assistant general manager Ryan Stewart calls Lacquette an “excellent hockey mind.” The 29-year-old Ojibwa joined a small group of female NHL scouts, including Los Angeles’s Blake Bolden and Chicago’s Meghan Hunter.

Karina LeBlanc

General manager, Portland Thorns

LeBlanc, previously the head of women’s football at CONCACAF, joined the National Women’s Soccer League powerhouse Portland Thorns in November. LeBlanc, from Maple Ridge, B.C., is tasked with keeping Portland successful on the field — the team won its second NWSL Shield in 2021 — while resetting club culture after former Thorns coach Paul Riley was accused last fall of sexual coercion by several NWSL players.

Sarah Nurse

Hockey player

The Hamilton native had an Olympic-record 18 points for Canada at Beijing 2022, becoming the first Black player to win a gold medal in women’s hockey. You couldn’t go minutes during coverage of the Winter Olympics without seeing the Canadian forward on a commercial. Nurse, who also serves on the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association’s board of directors, is the role model hockey fans feeling excluded from a largely white and male sport need.

Andi Petrillo

Broadcaster

You may have thought you would see less of Petrillo when she announced she was leaving the midday show “Leafs Lunch” on TSN and TSN Radio. But she was everywhere in the last 12 months, hosting two Olympics on CBC and leading the coverage of the Canadian men’s soccer team’s World Cup qualification run on OneSoccer.

Marie-Philip Poulin

Hockey player

Poulin, from Beauceville, Que., became the first person to score in four consecutive gold-medal hockey games at the Olympics when Canada beat the United States 3-2 in the final last month. Captain Clutch, 30, has scored the game winning-goal in Canada’s last three gold-medal wins over the U.S., including world championships. Poulin is recognized by many as the best women’s hockey player in Canadian history.

Catherine Raiche

Vice president of football operations, Philadelphia Eagles

Raiche, 32, was promoted to her current role with the Eagles prior to the 2021 season, making her the highest-ranking woman in an NFL personnel department. It looks like the Montreal native will keep climbing; she interviewed for the Minnesota Vikings’ general manager position in January. The NFL hasn’t had a female GM since Susan Tose Spencer served in the role with the Eagles from 1983 to 1985.

Teresa Resch

Vice president of basketball operations and player development, Raptors

The Minnesota-born Resch, who recently became a Canadian citizen, has her fingerprints on just about every part of the Raptors organization, like the building of its $65-million state-of-the-art practice facility. She is known for her understanding of how culture matters at the highest levels of professional sport, and wanting every detail at a “championship level.” Others are recognizing her talents, too. Resch recently landed on the Chicago Blackhawks’ short list of candidates for their general manager’s job.

Aurélie Rivard

Canadian swimmer

The Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Que., native set the bar for herself with four medals, including three gold, at the 2016 Paralympics. Five years later, Rivard, who hadn’t competed for two years because of the COVID-19 pandemic, smashed her world record in the women’s freestyle to win Canada’s first gold at Tokyo 2020. She would add four more medals, extending her reach as one of Canada’s most decorated Paralympians.

Georgia Simmerling

Agent, AG Sports Inc.

Simmerling announced her retirement last fall from a career that included alpine skiing, skicross racing and track cycling, and founded AG Sports Inc., a female-led, female-focused Canadian sports and marketing agency. The West Vancouver, B.C., native, who recently spoke out about her battle with bulimia during her athletic career, already has a number of Olympians on her roster.

Jaime Vieira

Minor-league hitting coach, Blue Jays

The Georgetown, Ont., native will become the first woman to coach in the Blue Jays organization, after she was hired in January. Vieira is known by her colleagues in the University of Guelph Humber’s athletics department for her ability to balance the analytical side of the game with making personal connections, which should help her get the most out of the players she works with.

Tanya Walter

Defensive assistant, B.C. Lions

The first full-time female coaching hire in CFL history joined the Lions in February. The Forestburg, Alta., native previously worked as a personal trainer in Edmonton while volunteering as a coach. Her goals include becoming a head coach. Walter’s duties will include film breakdown, working with B.C.’s other defensive coaches and being on the field full-time, just like her male counterparts.

Hayley Wickenheiser

Senior director of player development, Maple Leafs

Toronto promoted the Shaunavon, Sask., native from assistant director to senior director of player development last May. In the last 12 months, Wickenheiser has also earned her medical degree, started her residency at a Toronto hospital and continued advocating for COVID-19 vaccine uptake with her “This is Our Shot” campaign. She has designed her own hockey stick, the “Wick Stick,” with Verbero equipment, entering an often forgotten field: equipment targeted at women.

Rhian Wilkinson

Head coach, Portland Thorns

Wilkinson, formerly an assistant coach with England’s women’s national team, joined Portland in November. The Baie d’Urfe, Que. native will also play a significant role in resetting the club’s culture. Wilkinson has been a vocal critic of the lack of domestic opportunity in Canadian soccer for women and is a staunch supporter of bringing a domestic league to Canada

Laura Armstrong is a Star sports reporter based in Toronto. Follow her on Twitter: @lauraarmy