The lasting image of Wednesday night’s U SPORTS awards gala in Kingston should be that of Les Lawton, longtime Concordia Stingers bench boss and a pioneer in the women’s game, on stage receiving a deserved standing ovation.
His resume speaks for itself.
Win no. 500 came in 2003. Game no. 1,000 behind the bench: 2012. Prior to that, Lawton led Team Canada to a gold medal at the 1994 World Championships.
His contributions to the women’s game go far beyond any one statistic or gold medal.
Though no longer behind the bench after suffering a serious health incident in 2015, his continuing impact on university sport in this country was evident by the enthusiastic ovation he received Wednesday.
“Les’s name is synonymous with women’s hockey, and specifically university hockey, in Canada,” said Saint Mary’s head coach Chris Larade, who praised Lawton’s impact on the game in his coach-of-the-year speech. “You want to make your players understand the impact a guy like that had on the growth and development of the female game.”
Stingers head coach Julie Chu, who took over the program on an interim basis last season and has now assumed the head coaching role, says Lawton’s impact goes far beyond the confines of Concordia’s campus.
“We have this incredible league right now because of all the work that Les and the other pioneer coaches put in during the early stages of the game,” explained Chu, a runner-up for coach of the year. “Now we’re seeing the benefits of a guy like Les’s work; to have this wonderful eight-team tournament, and be able to celebrate these athletes, coaches and staff, is really special.”
Lawton remains with Concordia as a team advisor, and the no.-7 seed Stingers exude under Chu many of the core qualities his teams were known for.
“Any time you’re around Concordia, you know Les is part of the fabric,” explains Chu, who was brought on as an assistant by Lawton in 2014. “Not only is (he about) being a hockey coach, but being a mentor and passionate about having student athletes.”
While Les Lawton will not be behind the Concordia bench in Napanee this week, the fruits of his labour over an entire career will be on display for all to see.
On the ice, behind the bench, and in the stands.