To college teammates, she was Barb.
When Prince George native Amanda Asay was recruited to play hockey at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island in 2006, she met six other freshmen on the first night and they decided to give each other nicknames.
“No one remembers anyone else’s, but hers stuck,” says Kath Surbey, who was one of those teammates and remained one of Asay’s closest friends. “I’ve called her Barb for the last 15 years.”
Surbey hailed from Calgary and the two “always joked how two people from western Canada met in New England.”
They played hockey together at Brown for three years and tackled many of the same difficult classes together, as Surbey pursued neuroscience and Asay (pronounced AY-say) studied human biology.
Asay was a two-sport phenom. In addition to her time on the ice, she was a standout on the baseball field.
“I’m not sure if baseball was her first love. She found quite quickly when she took to baseball that she excelled at it, and I think probably the same for hockey,” Surbey says.
Asay joined the Canadian national team in 2005 and would go on to win five Women’s Baseball World Cup medals.
Despite that success, Surbey says “you don’t hear a lot about women’s baseball. Everyone always assumed she was talking about softball.”
After their time at Brown, the friends saw each other at least twice a year. Asay would visit Surbey in Connecticut. They’d go to the Calgary Stampede together. Or camping. In 2015, Surbey visited Asay in Toronto during the Pan-Am Games, where Surbey helped Canada to a silver medal in baseball.
Asay went on to pursue a PhD in forestry at the University of BC, working with Nelson’s Dr. Suzanne Simard and playing for the Thunderbirds hockey team. She eventually took a forestry job with the provincial government and first came to Nelson a few years ago. Though her position also took her to Golden and Revelstoke, she bought a home in Nelson in late 2019.
Meanwhile, Surbey heard about the UBC teacher training program in Nelson through a friend in Calgary, who told her: “You’ll love the town, but it’s hard to find a place to live.” Surbey replied that wasn’t worried, because Asay had offered her a place to live.
“When I told Barb I was coming, she was just so over-the-moon excited, she painted my room. She decorated. She gave me the attic as an office to do all my Zoom meetings from because she knew my program was online. She was so stoked to have somebody in the house with her. She made it feel like home through her generosity and kindness right away.”
That was last September. Each day after work, Asay would quiz her. “She’d ask ‘Buddy, how’s your day? How’s your teaching practicum? How did that math lab go?’ She was so excited for everybody else’s successes. She had a wealth of her own successes and accolades but none of that holds a candle to who she was as a person.
“When you meet her, you’re blown away by how she’s so funny, welcoming, and optimistic. Always so present. When you’re having a conversation, she’s so genuinely interested in the answers to the question she asked you.”
Asay and Surbey also reunited on the ice as part of the Wednesday night ladies league. They would occasionally get called to play in the men’s league as well, with the Red Wings.
“We hadn’t played hockey together in about 12 years so to get the chance to be on the ice together these last few months was so special,” Surbey says. “We’d always debrief after every game and hype each other up.”
Last Friday, Asay had the day off work and was keen to hit the slopes.
She and some friends headed to Whitewater. In their first run of the day, they entered some trees with plans to make a few turns and meet below. But when Asay didn’t show up, her friends became concerned.
According to a post on the Nelson Women’s Hockey Facebook site, they found her in a tree well, covered in snow. They dug her out and performed first aid with the help of a nurse skiing by. She was taken to hospital with a faint pulse but died later that evening. She was 33.
Surbey thanks all of the staff at Whitewater and Kootenay Lake Hospital for doing what they could.
Despite her accomplishments, Asay was never one to toot her own horn. “Over the years introducing her to friends, we would sit and have dinner and everyone thought ‘wow, this is the most amazing person,'” Surbey says.
“I would tell them about all the brilliant things she accomplished. I was always bragging about Barb because she’d never do it for herself. I was so proud of her for everything she’d done. You’d meet her and [think] ‘This is such a humble, present, welcoming kind person.’ But she’s also the best baseball player in Canada and also really good at hockey? And she’s also the smartest person? It’s crazy.
“She has all these awards and accolades but those don’t even begin to describe the person. She’s so much more than all that but it was quite astounding what she accomplished in her short time here.”
You can hear the entire interview here: