TORONTO — Hockey has always been there for Taylor Trussler.

And then, for 583 long days, he disappeared.

“It’s hard to be away from something you’ve done your whole life,” said soft-spoken Trussler, a native of Ayr and a standout forward for the Toronto Varsity Blues.

“It was a long break, too long, so it’s very nice to be back.”

Trussler, 21, has returned from the COVID-19 shutdown in the best shape of her life and leads Toronto’s No. 1 nationally in scoring ahead of weekend games with the Nipissing Lakers in North Bay. The Blues currently lead the Ontario University Athletics East standings with an 11-2-1 record, and Trussler leads with 16 points, a number that includes four game-winning goals.

Toronto head coach Vicky Sunohara has nothing but good things to say about Trussler, using words such as ‘underrated’, ‘highly skilled’, ‘hardworking’ and ‘clutch’ to describe the fourth-year kinesiology student she recruited from Cambridge. Rivulettes of the Provincial Women’s Hockey League.

“She’s a great girl, she’s passionate, she works hard on the ice and in the gym, and she’s also doing very well in school. She’s a quiet leader who walks by example, and I’ll always make time to talk about Taylor,” said Sunohara, who won 15 gold medals and three silver medals as a player (1989- 2008) with Canada’s national team.

“She’s not getting the recognition she deserves, I don’t think, but that’s okay; she just wants her team to succeed and she wants to win. She’s not a big kid (five foot two) but man, she fights.

Trussler received nearly four minutes of national recognition in October when Rogers Hometown Hockey visited her hometown and she deftly answered a series of questions from co-hosts Tara Slone and Ron MacLean. Topics included winning a National Midget ‘AA’ Championship with the Brantford Ice Cats in 2016 and scoring a double overtime goal against the Ryerson Rams in 2020 that kept Toronto alive and winning the McCaw Cup provincial championship.

MacLean also enticed Trussler to play men’s hockey for Ayr resident Tim Barrie, for whom she also worked at Barrie’s Asparagus Farm.

The segment featured a photo montage of Trussler’s career, which began when she was just four years old.

“I’ve never done anything like this before,” she said of being in the TV spotlight. “It was a lot of fun, but it was nerve-wracking, and I was really nervous. It’s something I’ll always remember.”

Trussler was committed to Toronto during her 10th year at Cambridge’s Southwood High School and never wavered, despite advances from other universities in Canada and the United States.

“I just loved Vicky from the start and never really wanted to go somewhere crazy far away,” she said.

Trussler was selected to the 2019 OUA All-Rookie Team and a year later led Toronto in the playoff standings in their championship run.

The joy of winning the OUA title was short-lived as the Blues lost a 2-1 decision to the Mount Royal Cougars on March 12 in the first round of the U Sports Championship in Charlottetown.

COVID-19 caused the tournament to be canceled the following day and Trussler did not play another game until October 16, 2021, when she scored two goals against York to start the current season.

That’s 583 days between games for those who score the points at home.

Toronto has yet to face teams outside its division this season, prompting Trussler and Sunohara to take first place with a grain of salt.

It’s fun to be on top, but the grind starts next week when the playoffs begin.

“The level of experience is a bit different than it was (in 2020). We’re a much younger team, but we’ve figured out how to deal with it,” Trussler said.

“We have great coaching, obviously, so I can’t wait to see what happens next.”

Trussler was a three-sport athlete at Southwood — ice hockey, field hockey and soccer — and led the Sabers to a bronze medal at the Ontario Field Hockey Championship (OFSAA) in 2017.