OTTAWA – Don’t look now, but Julie Chu, who just turned 31, is the grand old dame of Team USA.
In truth, she has been playing top-level hockey for so long it’s tough to remember a time when she was a rookie or young gun or just plain inexperienced. But in the past, she was always surrounded by several other veterans so that she just seemed like one of the gang—Cammi Granato, Jenny Potter, Caitlin Cahow, Molly Engstrom, Angela Ruggiero.
But the last couple of years have seen major changes for the Americans—and Chu. Ruggiero retired a year and a half ago, and Engstrom followed her this year. Coach Katey Stone made an enormous decision before this Women’s Worlds by cutting the 34-year-old Potter, a former captain and mainstay with the team since Nagano 1998.
Now, it’s just captain Chu.
“Any time there’s a bit of a change, when you lose some of your veteran players, there are always adjustments that need to be made,” Chu philosophized. “At the same time, the young players who are here have really earned their spot and are able to compete at this high level.”
For the American team in Ottawa, the roster includes no fewer than five players with significant WW18 experience and no senior WW experience: defenceman Lee Stecklein (two WW18), goalie Alex Rigsby (two WW18), and forwards Lyndsey Fry (two WW18), Sarah Erickson (2008 WW18), and Alex Carpenter (three WW18).
“I think we’re always making changes,” Chu continued. “We want to make sure we have the right people in the right positions and the right roles on this team, so I think from one tournament to the next you’re going to see roster changes on every team. We’re trying to get better every time. We know even if we win the tournament, there’s room for improvement and there are players pushing from below. We have a really strong player pool, and there may be more players making a push for the Olympics when we have tryouts this summer.”
The U.S. model differs night and day from the Canadian one in this respect. While coach Don Church favours veterans over rookies for Team Canada, Stone does, as Chu suggests, make changes more freely. The 2013 rosters, for instance, show that the U.S. has ten players from Vancouver 2010 (including two goalies) while Canada has 14 (including two goalies).
After graduating from Harvard in 2007 with a B.A. in psychology—and winning the Patty Kazmaier Award that final season as well—Chu went on to play in the CWHL, first with the Minnesota Whitecaps and later with the Montreal Stars. Chu is the only player to win the Clarkson Cup with two teams and the only three-time winner. She won first with the Whitecaps in 2010 and then in 2011 and 2012 with the Stars. Through these two parts of her career, she is as familiar playing with Canadians as playing against them in women’s hockey’s most bitter rivalry.
“For me, it’s not strange at all because I played with a lot of Canadians in college—Sarah Vaillancourt, Jen Botterill,” she began. “It’s part of the process and the growth of women’s hockey. Once you graduate from NCAA or CIS, there are limited options. But now the CWHL is a great option. I like to look at it as a league that’s more than just one American team which should have only American players or the Canadians playing only on Canadian teams. [Canada’s third goalie] Genevieve Lacasse actually plays for the Boston Blades (this year’s Clarkson Cup champions).”
Going further, her teammates with the Stars have included Caroline Ouellette, Meghan Agosta-Marciano, Catherine Ward, and goalie Kim St. Pierre.
“It’s important for the league to grow,” Chu continues. “For me, I’m teammates with the Canadians when we go to the Clarkson Cup with the Montreal Stars, but I come here to Ottawa and I’m teammates with the Team USA players. We’re going to battle hard.”
For Chu, though, her leadership is vital to the U.S. team’s success, especially now that the team has lost so many older players in recent times. Still, if she feels extra pressure, she doesn’t show it.
“Even though I’m the older one on the team, we have some great leaders who are veteran players who have gone to an Olympics or to many world championships already,” she reasoned. “They’re already leaders. I feel like I have an easy job. Our team sets standards together, along with the coaching staff. We believe in those standards and we believe in the “team first” mentality—it’s our mantra. We have a lot of people who believe, and we’ve built a culture around that. I don’t have to do a whole lot. I just have to make sure I’m doing my part to hopefully make the team successful.