Liz Duval fondly remembers playing hockey on Penetanguishene Bay as a child.
Her father Medore Duval would ensure the patch of ice in front of their home was crystal clear and ready for Liz, her brother Art and their friends as they strapped on the blades. As youngsters, they easily imagined they were the next Mike Palmateer, Ian Turnbull or Darryl Sittler while zigging and zagging along the smooth surface.
Added Art Duval: “Our father, sump pump and shovel, would become an expert icemaker, and she (Liz) would book friends to come and play with her morning, noon and at night.”
Hockey would go on to become a major part of Liz Duval’s childhood and young adult life, creating a vast collection of happy memories, fun adventures and lifelong friendships as she played for high-calibre teams from Canada to Switzerland.
Her hockey prowess also paved the way for her recent induction into the North American Indigenous Athletics Hall of Fame, a U.S.-based organization created to honour and recognize outstanding leadership and achievement in individual and team athletics.
“It’s a huge honour,” Duval says, noting the sporting hall includes many other renowned athletes, including some who competed professionally.
“One of the things that really strikes me as quite remarkable about this hall of fame is that it seems to be quite inclusive with the breadth of sports. It's really about celebrating accomplishment, which is really neat.”
Duval, who is Métis and also a member of the Penetanguishene and University of Guelph sports halls of fame, started her organized hockey career when she was about 11 years old and became one of only two girls given permission to play on a Penetanguishene minor hockey boys team.
“I played one year with the boys when that really wasn’t the thing to do,” says Duval, who turned 50 last summer.
While attending Penetanguishene Secondary School in the 1980s, she concentrated mainly on playing school sports like volleyball and basketball.
But after some time away from playing organized hockey, Duval suited up again years later for the Penetang Petras’ girls team in Grade 12 before moving on to play with a girls team in Huntsville.
“There were more girls my age (in Penetang) and several older ladies that were playing as well,” Duval says, noting that while the hockey wasn’t at the highest level, it gave her a taste of playing organized hockey and readied her for the move to Huntsville.
Medore Duval, who passed away last year, would drive his daughter back and forth from their Penetanguishene home to the Muskoka town for games and practices and sometimes further afield.
She cherishes those memories of early-morning drives with her father, who she credits with making her the player she would become.
"He was hugely instrumental," Duval says. "He worked hard his whole life. But on a Sunday morning, which was one of those few days off he had, we'd be in the car at seven o'clock, stop for a coffee and we'd drive to Sudbury for a game. We'd leave in the dark and get home in the dark."
That experience also granted her deeper exposure within the hockey community. At the time, girls hockey wasn’t as prevalent as it is today regionally with established teams more apt to be found in larger southern Ontario centres.
And while still in her teens, Duval was selected to play on a regional team that would compete in the 1988 Ontario Winter Games in North Bay.
“None of us had ever been exposed to that level of competition before,” says Duval, who has lived in Hamilton for the past 20 years and works for the province’s Ministry of Heritage, Sport, Tourism and Culture Industries as a community development advisor.
But the Huntsville and Winter Games' experiences opened doors and helped her gain exposure, recalls Duval, noting that after finishing high school, she was recruited to play women’s varsity hockey for the University of Guelph.
“We played a few tournaments and that's where I was recruited by some university coaches,” she says. “Because women’s hockey wasn't an Olympic sport yet, there were very few scholarship opportunities in the States.”
Her hockey skills were above average and soon many people took notice of her exceptional play, Bert Mason of the Penetanguishene Sports Hall of Fame wrote in his nomination letter to the North American Indigenous Athletics Hall of Fame as he highlighted Duval’s hockey journey.
Duval served as captain for her final three years at Guelph while also leading her teammates in scoring for that same period. She was selected as an Ontario Women’s Interuniversity Athletic Association (OWIAA) all-star for each of her four years she suited up for the Gryphons.
During the 1994-95 season, she led the Gryphons to the OWIAA championship as well as being named the team’s MVP and a finalist for the university’s Sportswoman of the Year. All the while, she continued to play on a club team.
Art Duval recounts a thrilling match between Guelph and the University of Toronto Blues, the favoured team to win the provincial university title.
“After a long delay due to an ice problem, Guelph would find themselves tied going into the third,” he recalls. “With four and a half minutes left, Sarah Applegarth who had a premonition of scoring did just that and sent the Gryphons into the lead.
“For four and a half minutes, the Blues sent everything at them but the top line of Guelph, held on, Liz taking an unbelievable amount of face-offs against one of the best university women's teams ever and ran out the clock.
“'I remember it like it was yesterday,' my mother (Annette) remembers us telling her. She was there but in the traditions of hockey mothers everywhere she was in the lobby with the instructions of ‘come tell me when it is over.’”
Upon graduation from university with Bachelor of Science in human kinetics, Duval starred for the Mississauga Chiefs of the Central Ontario Women’s Hockey League from 1993 through to 2000.
In 1996, she scored the overtime winning goal, helping the Chiefs capture the Ontario Senior AA hockey title.
Later in her career, she accepted an opportunity to play professional women’s hockey in Switzerland with DHC Lyss, just north of Bern.
“I got to play in different parts of Europe,” she says, noting that as one of two foreign-born players on the team she was also provided with an apartment, car and a small wage as well as a part-time job.
"We played a bunch of national teams, I remember playing the Latvian national team.It was a fantastic experience."
She rounded out her career with three seasons in the new National Women’s Hockey League (NWHL) with the Mississauga Ice Bears, retiring in 2001.
Former national team member Andria Hunter says it was a true pleasure to play as Duval’s teammate in the NWHL.
“She was a talented two-way player who always gave 100%,” Hunter says. “She was a catalyst who had a knack for making things happen, especially in important games.”