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After big years at UNB, local hockey stars have path to the pros

'It means a lot to me to be named a First Team All-Canadian. It is incredible to get to represent UNB and the AUS'

“Jobs of the Future” is a series focusing on career paths, local job opportunities, programs, and tales of success that highlight North Bay's diverse job market.       


It’s been a resounding storyline throughout much of the 2023-2024 hockey season – Women's hockey is growing. Aided tremendously by the overwhelming success of the Professional Women’s Hockey League (PWHL), a spotlight is shining like never before on the women’s side of the game. With record crowds attending games in Toronto, Detroit, and Minnesota this league is giving new hope to women and girls that they can have a career and make a living playing professional hockey.  

Like any league, the PWHL will need to be sustained by having star players who not only make an impact on the ice with their play, but those players who can also be role models off the ice, giving the next generation someone to look up to and relate to. Two players that check off both those boxes with local ties to North Bay are Lily George and Mackenzie Keenan, who are part of the three-time defending Atlantic University Sports (AUS) women's hockey champions the UNB Reds. 

George grew up in Nipissing First Nation and has been a star player with the University of New Brunswick Reds during her five-year tenure, ending her career as the franchise leader in goals (47) assists (54), points (101), and games played (130). She had a year to remember in her final season by setting franchise single-season records with 18 goals and 36 points while posting a +27 rating. Those numbers also led the league, and George was named AUS MVP. 

“I’m very proud of myself for achieving such accomplishments and ending my career at UNB in a good way,” says George. “I think it was a group effort, but I break my game down to being a two-way player and I think that's what made me successful on the offensive side.” 

On the ice, George has the skills a team in the PWHL should be looking for. “I don’t have a clear plan right now for next year. I am going to put my name in for the PWHL draft and look for options in Europe. But I see myself continuing to play hockey next year wherever that may be.” 

And off the ice, George is showing a true side of leadership. In October, she helped run a five-week hockey camp created specifically for Indigenous girls who wanted to try hockey, and it included gear for those who need it

“I think it’s an honour to have so many people look up to you and see you as a role model,” says George. “I get lots of support and loved being a part of the local Indigenous community and showing the little girls someone, they can look up to.” George was also named a First Team-All Canadian alongside her teammates Keenan and Payton Hargreaves. 

If the last name Keenan sounds familiar it's because she is related to Larry Keenan, a member of the original St. Louis Blues when the team was awarded expansion into the NHL. Keenan scored the first goal in Blues franchise history and upon retiring he returned home to North Bay and became President of the North Bay Trappers midget AAA and led the club for 23 years from 1986 to 2009.  

Mackenzie is his granddaughter and is carving out a very fine path for herself in women's hockey in the maritime province as she was one of the top defenders in the league.  

“Having my grandfather play in the NHL has influenced my path in hockey a great amount,” says the younger Keenan.  

“To say our family is a hockey family is an understatement. My dad and my uncle both play hockey, as well as most of my cousins. My brother and I grew up playing hockey, wanting to be like my grandpa. He still watches all of my games and my brother's games and he keeps encouraging us to just do our best and enjoy it.” 

Keenan led the league in points as a defender and finished second in assists among all skaters in the AUS en route to being named a First Team All-Canadian.  

“It means a lot to me to be named a First Team All-Canadian. It is incredible to represent UNB and the AUS, especially having Lily named to the first team with me,” she says.  

“I think that my success comes from the work my team put in this year. We all worked together to get these results. I was also lucky enough to come into an experienced UNB team last year, which had 11 fifth years on the roster. Playing my first year with so many great players allowed me to learn so much and I was able to come into my second season and put it all together.” 

The UNB Reds went 21-6-0-1 during the regular season and took home the AUS league championship for a third straight season, after defeating St. Francis Xavier University 2-1 in double overtime in the second game of a best-of-three series.  

“There was a lot of excitement when that goal went in,” says George who had an assist in UNB's overtime-winning goal in the AUS championship game last season.  

“I was really proud of the group of girls this year that was able to come together and win AUS for the third year in a row, knowing a lot of people had their doubts with so many new girls coming to the team.” 

Katelyn Scott and Robyn Brookshire were named to the all-rookie team and Keenan says these freshman players are going to be key to the success of the program going forward.  

“The Reds not only had a lot of talent this year, but I think the success of our team and these girls comes from our team's hardworking, gritty game. Lily and Payton are two of our teams' hardest workers, on and off the ice, and so it is very deserved for both of them to be recognized as AUS all-stars,” says Keenan.  

“Katelyn and Robyn also both came in and had a very impressive first season with the team. The first-year players this year came into the program and put in a lot of work, and made such a positive impact on the team, which contributed to the team's success.” 

The Reds came up short at the USports National Championship losing to the University of Toronto and UBC and George says playing on this stage for a third time was something she never expected coming into her university career and something she’ll never forget. 

“I think we learn something from these experiences every year. I think it was good for us with a young team to get to this stage. It was a close game against U of T in the quarter-finals and we played well but just couldn’t score when we needed to. There always seems like there is more pressure on a big stage but when you break it down you have to think of it as just another game and play the best you can.” 

Keenan adds, “Playing at the USports Nationals this year was a great experience for me and our whole team. Having such a young team, this was the first national appearance for a lot of the girls, and so we just learned to take it one game at a time. It is a big stage, but it’s also just a hockey game and we made it there for a reason. I think the team is very hungry to get back there and improve on our results. Having such a close game against U of T proved that we can compete, and we’re excited to further prove that in the next couple of years.” 

With George entering the draft for next season and Keenan putting together impressive freshman and sophomore seasons it wouldn’t be surprising to see the PWHL be the next stage for both of their hockey careers.

If you have a story idea for "Jobs of the Future" send Matt an email at [email protected] 

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Matt Sookram

About the Author: Matt Sookram

Matthew Sookram is a Canadore College graduate. He has lived and worked in North Bay since 2009 covering different beats; everything from City Council to North Bay Battalion.
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