LYNCHBURG, Va. — Sarah Fowler has played hockey for the better part of her life, yet no on-ice moment compares to the one she experienced two weeks ago.

And it could not have happened at a better time.

Fowler, a junior on the Liberty University club women’s ice hockey team from Winslow, played a key role in helping the Flames (31-4-1) overcome the University of Miami (Ohio) 4-1 for the American Collegiate Hockey Association Division I championship March 8 at the York (Pa.) Ice Center.

“Absolutely, hands down my favorite hockey moment and such a cherished memory of my life,” Fowler said. “It was incredible.”

The national championship meant more to the 5-foot-7 forward than just winning, though, as it came a little over one month after her mother, Jennifer, had passed away after a three-year battle with fallopian tube cancer.

“She knew how much hockey meant to me and how seriously I took it, and she was honestly my No. 1 supporter,” Fowler said. “… I know that she would have been so proud.”

While her Liberty teammates prepared for a playoff push in early February, Fowler returned to Maine to be with her family after she received news that her mother’s condition had worsened. In all she was home for two weeks, then after her mother passed on Feb. 10 she had to find a way to get back to her life in Lynchburg.

From missed schoolwork to her responsibilities with work on campus, it was all very overwhelming, Fowler said, yet thanks to her faith, family and friends she worked through it. And much like her younger brother Jimmy, a junior on the Winslow boys hockey team, she found her greatest escape in the rink.

“When I started playing and skating around I didn’t think of anything else, just about what I was doing, and working as a team and playing hockey,” she said. “It was just really nice to escape from the hurt, and the pain and the grief that I felt from my mom and her passing. Hockey was a great outlet for that.”

On the ice Fowler was not the type of player that filled up the scoring sheet for the Flames. She was a fourth line forward who appeared in 22 games and scored just one goal, assisting on four others. Yet according to her teammate, senior Jenny MacArthur, her role was every bit as important in Liberty’s championship run.

“She’s the most encouraging person I know,” MacArthur, an assistant captain, said. “She’s really an inspiration to me, just being positive when things aren’t going your way and just because she didn’t play that much doesn’t mean she wasn’t one of the biggest parts of our team.”

Sarah Fowler also brought a sense of toughness to the Flames, both on and off the ice. As difficult as this winter was for her, she never showed it — at least not during practices or games.

“She is one of the toughest people I know both mentally and physically,” MacArthur said. “Nothing that happened with her mom seemed to phase her, especially when she was around the team. She tried to stay as level-headed as possible and I know that sometimes she would break down. I’ve talked to her a bunch of times, but when we were in front of the girls she never wanted to show weakness.”

Fowler’s first games back with Liberty came in a weekend series with Tri City Selects on Feb. 21 and 22, a pair of shutout victories for the Flames. The outcome is hardly what she will remember, though.

“All of my closest friends came and they made signs for me. They cheered for me and they stayed for all three periods,” Fowler said. “It was awesome to see a huge group of my friends in the stands supporting me and being there for me.”

Liberty did not lose a game from that point forward and Fowler — though just a junior — said she is just fine with that being how she ends her hockey career.

Between everything that has happened, hockey, her schoolwork and increased responsibilities with her on-campus job, Fowler knew something had to go in her busy schedule. Through a conversation with her mother and careful consideration, she ultimately decided this was as good of a moment as any to hang up her skates.

“One reason I’m so sure about not playing next year is that I did talk about it with my mom before she passed,” Fowler said. “I was going through a lot of emotional struggles because of my mom and her sickness, obviously, so I told her, ‘Mom, I don’t think I can balance school and work and hockey, and just my relationships and my time, so I think I need to give one of them up.’

“… My mom agreed with me and she supported me.”

Evan Crawley — 621-5640

[email protected]

Twitter: @Evan_Crawley


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