The Puck Stops Here: Candace Kourounis Slapshots Stereotypes in 2SLGBTQI+ Community

  • June 28, 2024

CAO’s Empowering Stories from Behind the Bench article series – June 2024

“There are still challenging times, but I am more positive. Just really excited about the young generation understanding that the queer community is human, too.”

By David Grossman

Be who you are.

That has always been the mission for Candace Kourounis.

She’s been doing a little bit of everything, has received support from many, and has lived a sequence of events – from athlete to coach to advisor, and the list goes on.

Along the way, an astute Kourounis has learned quickly and, to be clear, commandeered a career that has helped more people than she will ever know.

We’ll get to that as you read on.

Now, at 32 years of age, the Toronto-born Kourounis has been an admirer of sports for most of her life. She also knows what teamwork, sportsmanship, honesty, life skills and coaching, have done for her.

In some cases, it has been a rollercoaster ride.

As a multi-sport athlete when she attended Markham District High School, participating in volleyball, track, basketball, and hockey, Kourounis was a member of a pair of York Region ice hockey championship teams.

The youngest of four in her family, she was superb at juggling academics with athletics, and while not sure of a permanent career, accepted a scholarship to play hockey and study at the University of Windsor. Graduation would come with a Bachelor of Arts degree with some of her favorite studies in psychology and history. She also took a fifth year to play university hockey.

One day at Windsor, a friend suggested that she consider a post-secondary program that was offered across the other end of the province. And so, Kourounis was on the move. She would sail through an eight-month program in Sports and Entertainment Sales and Marketing at Loyalist College in Belleville.

Truth be told, the final four months would see her participating in an internship.

She had applied to the Pittsburgh Penguins when the National Hockey League team went looking for someone to assist in their Youth and Amateur Hockey department. Specifically, it was in the area that focussed on elite and developmental programs. Coincidentally, that was the year the city went ecstatic when the Penguins went on to win a Stanley Cup.

Kourounis didn’t know much about coaching, but she learned quickly and at the age of 23 transitioned from competitive hockey player to rookie coach.

“I struggled, no doubt about it,” she recalled. “But I had to start somewhere, and this was a great opportunity. The experience was great, and I learned so much.”

Not one for letting good enough be enough, Kourounis would return to Toronto. She accepted a job as an account executive with the Toronto Argonauts. Yes, it was 2016 and Canada’s largest city was hosting the Grey Cup.

Working for two major professional sports organizations, she gained a wealth of experience and developed business contacts. But her heart was still in hockey. She returned to the arena, linking up with one of the largest athletics and programs provider in North America.

“Canlan Sports was building women’s hockey, and I took on the job as Coordinator of Youth Hockey tournaments and was promoted to Manager of Female Hockey,” said Kourounis who, now in her eighth year in the job, has witnessed a huge growth in the sport by women of all ages.

The fascination of working multiple jobs wasn’t a factor with her. Time management was a strength and so too was her ability to excel in all of them. So, Kourounis – having gone from Windsor to Belleville and then to Toronto would add another city.

This time, it was off to Northern Ontario and Sault Ste. Marie. Starting up a women’s hockey team, was Sault College. Driven by passion, creativity, accountability, and dedication, this job would benefit from her vast category of strengths, knowledge, experience, and leadership.

She became a head scout with the Sault Cougars – and was responsible for finding talented players from the Greater Toronto Area and beyond. She was busy, and it showed with huge results on the ice.

Sault ended its 2023 season undefeated in 31 games and won the American Collegiate Hockey Association (ACHA) championship. The Canadian school defeated Boston’s Northeastern University, 6-1, in the gold medal game.

Earlier this year, Kourounis would make it back-to-back celebrations adding another ACHA title to her resume, as Sault College became back-to-back champions, defeating Assiniboine College from Brandon, Man., 3-0.

The amazing part of her life journey is that Kourounis is now working five jobs.

There’s Canlan and Sault College, but she has added three more. Let’s start with off-ice officiating involving the Professional Women’s Hockey League (PWHL) and part time coaching jobs at York University as well as with the Brampton Canadettes in the Ontario Women’s Hockey Association.

“I thoroughly enjoy coaching, sharing and showcasing it to players eager to learn and grow with the sport,” she said, while also acknowledging her work, along with others, in the formation of the inaugural Female Coaches Summit at a coaching conference in June at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.

“Mentorship is big with me. I never had it growing up. Now I can use my experience to help others, including those who are struggling, by showing them what women can do as coaches, administrators and leaders.”

There’s something else.

“It’s about overcoming a huge hurdle of shame,” said Kourounis. “There was a time when I was afraid. I had come out three years ago – about my sexual orientation and am part of the 2SLGBTQIA+ family.

“It’s been an interesting journey and every day I feel more and more embraced. I have more confidence and have coached players trying to sort out their sexuality, and I find myself in a support role. There are still challenging times, but I am more positive, not naïve. Just really excited about the young generation understanding that the queer community is human, too.”

June is Pride Month – and the last Sunday of the month will see Toronto host a celebration of 2SLGBTQIA+ – the diversity of the Two-spirit, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer community in what is believed to be the largest street festival in the world highlighting arts and cultural festivals.

In a powerful series of stories highlighting coaches across the province, the Coaches Association of Ontario (CAO) is highlighting Pride Month shining the spotlight on Kourounis. It’s about her focus in the role of coaching (something she adores) and as a person who is helping others dealing with challenges that go beyond the world of sport.


David Grossman is a veteran multi award-winning Journalist and Broadcaster with some of Canada’s major media, including the Toronto Star and SPORTSNET 590 THE FAN, and a Public Relations professional for 45+ years in Canadian sports and Government relations.

“Every day I feel more and more embraced. I have more confidence and have coached players, trying to sort out their sexuality and I find myself in a support role.”