Win or lose, Virden’s Karissa Kirkup knew her final U of M Bisons hockey game was going to be special.
In her fourth and final season with the University of Manitoba women’s hockey team, the daughter of Kary and Suzanne Kirkup helped her team to the national championships on Prince Edward Island in March.
Unfortunately, the team lost its first game and Kirkup separated her shoulder in the second period. “Knowing pain would be the only issue, not that I would injure it anymore,” Kirkup played in the second contest, recorded an assist, and helped her team to victory. That meant the Bisons would play for fifth place in Kirkup’s final game with the team.
“I knew regardless of the outcome, that our entire team, especially each and every senior, was going to leave their heart and soul out on the ice there that day,” she said. “That game holds a special place in my heart as I just remember trying my hardest to savour every moment knowing this was my last game as a Bison with this awesome group.”
U of M triumphed over the University of Toronto Varsity Blues, 2-0. Kirkup scored the first goal, assisted on the second, and was named the Bisons Player of the Game.
“What made it so special and memorable was looking up into the crowd and smiling at my parents, watching them run down to the ice surface with the other fans and giving them a big hug with tears swelling in all three of our eyes,” she said. “Knowing that I left it all out on the ice not just today, but since I began at eight years old. That was a very emotional moment for us, as hockey has always been such a huge focus.”
Kirkup closed out her university hockey career, which included two years in the United States, with a strong season. The forward was second on the Bisons in points (22) and third in goals (10) and assists (12) in 35 games.
“She has contributed in all facets of the game and is a leader that is counted on by her younger teammates and her coaching staff,” U of M interim head coach Sean Fisher wrote in a recommendation letter. “Karissa’s hard work and commitment to the team was recognized by her peers as she was voted to the team’s leadership group as an assistant captain. … She displays a high level of commitment and team spirit on a consistent basis and displays all the values and beliefs that the Bisons women’s program prides itself on.”
Kirkup’s impact at the U of M and in the Winnipeg area was not limited to the hockey team. She volunteered for various activities and, in her final year, took on the huge role of University of Manitoba Athletic Council Co-chair.
“She found her home at U of M and was recognized as a leader on her team and among all Bison student-athletes,” associate athletic director Curt Warkentine said. “As UMAC Co-chair, she provided direction and leadership to the Athlete’s Council, she co-chaired monthly meetings, she helped set direction for the council, and was a role model by being an active community volunteer.”
Kirkup earned a bachelor’s degree in kinesiology from the U of M in 2018. She recently completed her first of two years of education studies with the goal of teaching high school physical education and biology.
She had opportunities to play professionally in Europe but is focused on beginning her teaching career and spending time with family and friends. After her school year ended, she joined her mother to walk the Camino de Santiago - an epic Catholic pilgrimage. Kirkup said their 800-kilometre trek on foot took them from Saint Jean Pied de Port, France to Santiago de Compostela, Spain.
“The Camino was a perfect way to both spend time with my Mom and take time to celebrate all that my hockey career really was,” said Kirkup, who is grateful for the overwhelming support she has received from her family during her hockey career. “Every experience, positive or constructive, I have been through as a hockey player has been the best preparation to life. Being a part of a team sport environment teaches players so many valuable lessons. I am so thankful for everything I have been through and for the people who have helped me along the way.”