SAULT STE. MARIE, Mich. (WJMN) – Ice hockey is a huge part of Sault Ste. Marie’s culture and history. For Soo native Abby Roque, playing the game has always run through her veins.
“My dad started building an ice rink probably when I was two, I don’t think I really skated I more like sat in a sled and got pulled around. But around then I basically had skates on. But around then I basically had skates on I started in figure skates and eventually I got them to make me the move to hockey skates at probably five or six years old. Ever since I’ve just been skating, playing hockey, said Roque.
Over the weekend, Roque returned to her hometown for the first time since securing silver with Team USA’s women’s hockey in Beijing. Passing down her own skills and knowledge of hockey to the next generation of athletes is a special sentiment for Roque.
“The Abby Roque Hockey Camp, it’s something that I guess when I was growing up I never really thought I’d have my own camp here. I was normally the kid going to all of these camps and just skating at the Big Bear, skating at the Norris Center, or in my backyard, everywhere. It’s great to have these kids who were once me out on the ice. It’s just three days of two different groups. We go out there and do some skill work and then play some games, try and get some creativity going and just honestly let them have fun because that’s the biggest thing in hockey. I always say if you’re having fun it’s just that’s how you get farther in hockey is that you really have to enjoy it.”
The youth camp was held at the Big Bear Arena, or the Chi Mukwa, which is on tribal land owned by the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians. As an indigenous woman herself, it’s a full-circle moment for Roque, who was the first indigenous player on the USA’s women’s hockey team.
“For me, I mean being able to represent indigenous people at the games it’s obviously an incredible honor. I think growing up here, as you said, you are surrounded by indigenous culture and you’re not really thinking that other people haven’t experienced anything like that. And when I left and went to college you kind of realize nobody else on my team is indigenous most of them haven’t even played with an indigenous player in their whole career so it’s just a point of pride for me to be that first person to be on that USA women’s roster as an indigenous player,” said Roque.
“I think just being able to talk and answer questions for teammates, and players, and just hopefully be a role model to young indigenous kids who want to play is something that I take a lot of pride in and it’s something that I think is very important for the sport of hockey itself is to just diversify because it hasn’t always been diverse. We’re getting there but it still has a long way to go.”
Children of all ages and genders participated in Roque’s camp, including Chris Gordon’s 9-year-old daughter Tia.
“It’s just another layer of how special it is. It’s for all people and all kids, especially here in the Upper Peninsula. We don’t have a lot of people with that type of caliber that we can attach to, especially in women’s sports and women’s hockey. And just add as an indigenous role model that now kids they can attach to that. It just adds that extra piece of what’s possible. They can all have these types of dreams and if they work hard, they can achieve anything they want,” said Gordon.
From being the only girl on Sault Area High School’s hockey team to playing college hockey for the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Roque never expected to be where she is today.
“When I was a kid, I think I dreamt of becoming an Olympian after I realized ‘Oh you’re not going to the NHL you’re not a boy, you’re a girl.’ Because when you’re a kid you see the people on TV like ‘I want to be like Sidney Crosby’ and then as you grow up you’re like there are no girls in the NHL what can I do? And you start to see people like Hilary Knight and these great USA Olympians playing and you’re like ‘Oh, I can do that!’ like that’s the highest level in my sport.
“I think later in life I kept playing and I was a pretty good player, but I hadn’t made the national team and I don’t think I really expected to at some point I was just playing and doing my best in Wisconsin. That was my main goal was to win a national championship there and then all of a sudden it all fell into place and I made my first national team my senior year there and I think that was when I was like ‘Okay I can make that Olympic team if I keep pushing and trying.'”
At only 24-years-old, Roque plans to continue lacing up those skates with the hopes of one day winning gold.
“Hockey means the world to me. It has been a part of every piece of my life, honestly. I grew up the daughter of a hockey coach and then I played hockey my whole life, I’m still playing hockey. So I think without hockey I honestly don’t know where I would be. I have no idea what I would be doing. But it’s really just influenced me in so many different ways of meeting amazing people and making friendships. Some people who I really do consider family through hockey and giving me some many experiences. It’s really shaped me into the person I am today so I could be more grateful for this sport.”
Roque will be holding another hockey camp in Grand Rapids from June 17 to 19. For more information, click here.