Karen (Duguay) Bunting loves to talk ringette.
These days, the Sudbury native and current resident of Barrie has all the more reason to chatter, with pride, about the sport that she calls a passion, having been inducted into the Ringette Canada Hall of Fame this past winter.
Born and raised on Bancroft Drive, just doors away from Carmichael Playground, Duguay (the name by which almost all of those involved in ringette know her) seemed destined to excel on the ice, right from the outset.
"I was walking and I was skating - they just went hand in hand," said the 44 year old mother of twin girls, both of whom now play provincial level ringette in Barrie. "To be honest, I don't think I knew any different. I think most of the girls on my street played ringette - it was just that common."
The early years are the things of which Sudbury winter sports lore is made of. A massive playground system, sprawling right across the city, provided ample competition, and memories that lasted a lifetime.
"I may be wrong, but I honestly only remember playing outdoors (for Carmichael), with the snowbanks along the sides of the rinks, going in at half-time because your toes were frozen, and getting a little hot chocolate."
But it was in these humble beginnings where Duguay would rapidly develop the exquisite skating stride that was her hallmark right through her career with the national team, a talent that keeps her competing in her mid-forties, with and against athletes half her age.
"I just skated," exclaimed Duguay, asked about the origin of her prowess. "I loved to skate, so I skated. I was good at it, and when you are good at something, you do it more and more. I was always on the ice, every opportunity I had."
At the tender age of seven, she would tryout for the competitive team, for the very first time, cut as she battled it out for a spot with girls three and four years older than her. A year later, Duguay would crack the roster, tabbed initially as a forward and center, though that would change later as she continued to climb through the ranks.
An elite talent on a local level, Duguay would rise to much greater prominence in high school, her skill-set opening doors that would take her from coast to coast - and beyond. "I think I was in grade 10, when I made the provincial team, that was really the takeoff to a lot of my career," she said.
It was also where her focus, on the ice, shifted slightly. "Team Ontario wanted me as a defence, because of my speed," recalled Duguay. "I think they saw something in me that I don't think I had noticed before. I am not renown for my scoring, by any means. I can score - it's not pretty - but I get a lot of points as a defence, just rushing up."
In 1991, Duguay attended the Canada Winter Games in Prince Edward Island. She was a mainstay at the Canadian Ringette Championships, attending no less than 15 of these national tournaments between 1991 and 2015. Where the beer leagues await those in many sports who have celebrated their 20th birthday, such is not the case with ringette.
"In ringette, that's actually where it picks up, where you have the opportunities," explained Duguay. Throughout her years at Laurentian University, on through Teacher's College, and flowing directly into the timeline of her career as a teacher, this Sudbury gem continued to shine, twice representing her country at the World Championships (1998 & 2000), with both events taking place in Finland.
"The atmosphere was crazy, thousands of people yelling "SU-O-MI"," she said. "Playing there was great. It was neat to see how they embrace their ringette players. The players there are such huge role models for the young girls."
Maintaining her game, later in life, would come courtesy of two pursuits: a commitment to fitness and training in the off-season, and suiting up with the Richmond Hill Lightning of the National Ringette League every winter, until roughly seven years ago, when she dropped back to the "AA" provincial caliber option.
"In the NRL, you have players who pay to play, who pay to play because they love the sport," she noted, the league currently boasting 13 teams that extend from Vancouver, Edmonton and Calgary in the west, all the way across to the Atlantic Attack in New Brunswick. "It's fast, it's aggressive, and it's competitive."
Married to a long-time ringette referee, Duguay acknowledged that it is not hard to guess what the year-round prevailing theme might be in their household. "We eat, sleep and dream ringette," she said. "I had my twins in May of 2010, and in August and September, I was at tryouts. I was breast-feeding my twins and then jumping on the ice."
"For me, it was just part of my life and my lifestyle."
With the girls getting older, Duguay has launched herself into coaching, compounding the juggling act that she still maintains. She has committed to playing at least one more season, post-Covid, all as she begins to amass the extra knowledge to transfer what she can do so well on the ice, to those youngsters that so look up to her.
"It's a little bit challenging," she admitted. "I don't remember any of the skills being broken down for me, so I still find it a little bit difficult. Every time I jump on the ice with the girls, I am learning with them."
As for the phone call that notified Duguay of her Hall of Fame induction, well, let us just say that it caught her more than a little off-guard. "I was honestly speechless," she laughed. "I honestly had to call the lady back a few days later to apologize."
For one of the very few times in her life, Karen (Duguay) Buntin was not prepared to talk, at length, about the sport of ringette. Understandably so.