SAULT STE. MARIE, me. (WJMN) – Ice hockey is a big part of Sault Ste. Marie’s culture and history. Born in Soo, Abby Roque has always had gaming running through her veins.
“My father probably started building an ice rink when I was two years old. I don’t think I actually skated, I was more like sitting in a sled and being dragged around. But back then I was basically wearing skates. But back then I basically had skates on, I started figure skating and eventually I got them moving to hockey skates around five or six years old. Since then I only skate and play hockey, Roque said.
Over the weekend, Roque returned to her hometown for the first time since clinching a silver medal with Team USA women’s hockey in Beijing. Roque is passionate about passing on her own skills and knowledge of hockey to the next generation of athletes.
“Abby Roque Hockey Camp, that’s something I think growing up I never really thought I’d have my own camp here. I was usually the kid that would go to all these camps and just skate at Big Bear, at the Norris Center, or in my backyard, anywhere. It’s great to have these kids that were once me on the ice. It’s only three days with two different groups. We go out and do some skill work and then play a few games, try to get some creativity going and just let them honestly have fun because that’s the greatest thing about hockey. I always say that if you’re having fun, the only way you’ll get further in hockey is that you have to really enjoy it.”
The youth camp was held at Big Bear Arena or Chi Mukwa which is located on tribal lands bordering the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians. As an Indigenous woman, Roque, the first Indigenous player on the US women’s ice hockey team, has a full-circle moment.
“Of course it is an incredible honor for me to be able to represent tribal peoples at the Games. I think when you grow up here, like you said, you’re surrounded by indigenous culture and you don’t really think that other people haven’t experienced it. And when I left and went to college, you kind of realize that nobody else on my team is Indigenous. Most of them haven’t even played with an Indigenous player in their entire career, so I’m just proud to be that first person to include an Indigenous player in the US women’s roster,” Roque said.
“I think just being able to talk to teammates and players and answer questions and hopefully be a role model for young Indigenous children who want to play is something I’m very proud of and I think that’s a lot good It is important for the sport of ice hockey itself to diversify, because it has not always been diverse. We are on the way there, but there is still a long way to go.”
Children of all ages and genders attended Roque’s camp, including Chris Gordon’s 9-year-old daughter Tia.
“It’s just another layer of how special it is. It is for all people and all children, especially here in the Upper Peninsula. We don’t have many people of that caliber to build on, especially in women’s sports and women’s hockey. And just add as an indigenous example that children can now build on. It just adds that extra bit of what’s possible. They can all have those kinds of dreams, and if they work hard, they can achieve anything they want,” Gordon said.
From being the only girl on the Sault Area High School ice hockey team to being a college hockey player for the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Roque never expected to be where she is today.
“When I was a kid, I dreamed of becoming an Olympian after realizing, ‘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 people on TV like, “I want to be like Sidney Crosby,” and then when you get older you think there are no girls in the NHL, what can I do? And you see people like Hilary Knight and these great US Olympians play and you’re like, ‘Oh, I can do that!’ This is the highest level in my sport.
“I think I continued to play later in life and was a pretty good player, but I hadn’t made it to the national team and I don’t think I really expected that. Eventually I just played and did my best in Wisconsin. That was my main goal, 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’s when I was like, ‘Okay, I can do the Olympic team, if I keep pushing and trying.’”
At just 24, Roque plans to continue lacing those skates in hopes of one day winning gold.
“Ice hockey means the world to me. To be honest, it was a part of my life. I grew up the daughter of a hockey coach and then played hockey my whole life, I still play hockey. So I guess without hockey I honestly don’t know where I would be. I have no idea what I would do. But it has really impacted me in so many different ways, meeting amazing people and making friends. Some people that I really consider family through hockey and who have given me a lot of experiences. It really shaped me into the person I am today, so I can be even more grateful for this sport.”
Roque is hosting another hockey camp in Grand Rapids June 17-19. For further information, click here.