Abby Roque: The Big Q&A
by Lucas Aykroyd|26 AUG 2021
Highly touted U.S. forward Abby Roque made her 2021 IIHF Ice Hockey Women's World debut against Switzerland on 20 August.
photo: Andre Ringuette / HHOF-IIHF Images
Back in February, when Hilary Knight said of Abby Roque, “I think she’s going to be the best player in the world, plain and simple,” it made the hockey world sit up and take notice. Of course, accolades aside, the 23-year-old American centre has done a great job of establishing herself on the ice.

A 2019 NCAA champion and 2020 Patty Kazmaier Award finalist with the University of Wisconsin Badgers, Roque led the U.S. leg of the PWHPA’s Secret Dream Gap Tour this year with six goals and 11 points. Roque – a physical force at 170 cm and 82 kg – also boasts a strong U18 Women’s Worlds resume with a 2014 silver medal and 2015 gold medal.
Abby Roque - 2021 IIHF Ice Hockey Women's World Championship
USA 26 AUG 2021
The daughter of current Toronto Maple Leafs pro scout Jim Roque is still looking for her first point in her first Women’s Worlds. She played in the 3-0 wins over Switzerland and Finland before sitting out the 6-0 romp over the ROC team. In the 2019-20 Rivalry Series with Canada, Roque scored in both games of the December leg, and could potentially have an impact against the Canadians here in Calgary on Thursday as the round-robin wraps up. caught up with Roque by Zoom on Wednesday.

Let’s start with the hard questions. During a recent press conference, coach Joel Johnson mentioned the team had a “parking lot party” on Monday, which also featured some games in the hotel lobby. What were some of the highlights?

Well, Dani Cameranesi and I are pretty good at Kan Jam. It’s like a Frisbee game. You throw it in and your partner slams it in a bucket.

We had four different teams. Everybody all played off in a round robin, and the team I was on was actually number one. The number four seed took us down and then won it all in the little parking lot final game. Dani and I lost in Kan Jam to Courtney Kennedy and Jessie Compher. So, a tough loss to handle for me and Dani! But it was fun. We also played cornhole and lawn golf. 

Were there any prizes handed out?

The winners got a little trophy. Actually, I shouldn’t say ‘little.’ They made a big trophy! But it’s like a cardboard box with some cups taped on it. It’s pretty funny.

On the ice so far, you’ve personally played a couple of games so far, averaging about 12 minutes of ice time. How’s it been for you?

It’s been good, just dipping my toe in. Obviously, it’s been a minute since we’ve played some games! So it’s been good to finally get out there and get skating. I’m excited for more games to come.

You’re known as a playmaker. Do the coaches ask you to shoot more?

Definitely! I know I need to shoot more, too. I definitely look off a lot of shots, trying to make a play, where sometimes I should just get the puck on net. So I think that’s definitely something for me in the next couple of games I need to work on when the opportunity presents itself. They’re always like, “You have a good shot, you should probably use it!” And I’m like, “All right. Yeah, you’re right!” [laughs]

How wild is it for you to be on such a deep roster where players get rotated in and out of the lineup and the team still wins convincingly?

Our depth is one of our biggest strengths. I think you could put anybody on this roster on the ice against anybody, and they would do just fine. We’ve talked about that a lot, how we trust everybody on the team to do any job that they need to. Everybody’s a smart hockey player. You don’t really have to explain things in too much depth, because we’ve all played at the highest level here. These girls are the best players from their respective teams growing up. So they’ve all been in high-pressure situations. And I think that’s what makes this team so good.
Who’s taken you under their wing?

Obviously, a lot of the older veteran girls. But I actually moved to Minnesota, so I’ve been skating with a lot of the Minnesota-based players, and it’s just been awesome.

Lee Stecklein is a great leader and a great person. She’s always watching out for me, making sure I know what’s going on, where the next practice is going to be, anything like that in Minnesota.

In terms of my position, Brianna Decker is probably one of the best centres who’s ever played women’s hockey. I sit next to her in the locker room right now. I’ve played a lot with her and some of the other girls. Learning from somebody like Brianna Decker, watching how she handles herself and her play, is something I can read off when it’s my turn to go.

Is there a camaraderie with the other current and former Wisconsin Badgers on this team?

Definitely. I think we all love when us Badgers are succeeding! Obviously, it was so cool yesterday, seeing Hilary and Brianna both breaking records on the same play, both Wisconsin Badgers. It’s just incredible to see that success.

I think all of us kind of always end up in a little fight with the Gopher girls sometimes, shooting some chirps at each other. But it’s great, because you know you always have your Badger family. And we really are a family, whether you played at Wisconsin at the same time or not.
Honestly, I think we might have eight Badgers on the roster or something. Obviously, there’s some Badgers who I got to play with, some of my best friends. So it’s just awesome, having that support around you.

Hilary talks a lot about the culture of the US national team and how young players are brought right into the fold. What does that look like in practice?

Even though some of our veteran players have quite literally done it all, as you saw last night with Hilary and Decker just breaking those records, it’s incredible to watch how they handle themselves. Because they don’t think they’re “above you.”

They’re never too big to pick up the pucks, help carry some bags, or help out with something if anybody needs it. Everybody is kind of treated as equals.

Of course, you’re still a rookie. You’re still getting to know the players. And obviously, that comes with its own territory. But they don’t treat you like you are not meant to be there because you’re new. They just want to bring you into the fold. And they want to be one team.

You studied marketing at Wisconsin. What did you take away from that?

I really loved the business school at Wisconsin. I learned a lot of things that are going to help me in hockey and in life. One of the biggest things for me, learning-wise, was just how a lot of the world is perceived. As a marketing major, you learn some psychological factors about consumers and people’s behaviour.

You learn why people respond to certain things, why they would want to buy something or do something. As a marketing major, that’s one of the biggest takeaways – how you can read different people and try to figure out what they want.

Do you feel like that’s something you can apply with the PWHPA and the marketing of professional women’s hockey?

They have their own people for that, obviously. [laughs] But I think that is a huge thing right now, watching us market women’s hockey, via the PWHPA or the IIHF, everywhere, and realizing that we’re just trying to say: ‘We are women’s hockey and it’s a great sport to watch.’ We’re not trying to compare ourselves to anybody or anything. We’re trying to sell our hockey to the people who know good hockey and enjoy hockey and just want to support it.
You can’t try to change what you’re doing for other people. Women’s hockey is a big supporter of integrity. We’re just trying to make sure that the people who truly appreciate the sport get to see it.

At Wisconsin, Mark Johnson was your coach.  He starred in the 1980 “Miracle on Ice” in Lake Placid and also coached the women’s team at the 2010 Olympics. Did he ever talk to you about his Olympic experiences?

If you’ve heard Mark Johnson, he’s a very humble guy. It’s truly incredible, because you look at his accomplishments and he really doesn’t talk about all the crazy, insane, awesome things he’s done. But it was the 40th anniversary of the 1980 game, and his wife asked him: “Do you ever talk about that time? And he was like, “No, not really.” And she’s like, “Well, you should!”

So I think we were in Duluth, and we all sat down in a room. We were kind of confused, I remember, getting called into a room at night. And he sits down and he’s like, “Well, my wife thought it would be a good idea if I answered any questions you had about that time. Compared to the movie [Miracle], if you have any questions about whether things really happened, things like that.” And everybody’s hands are shooting up.

That night, it was really cool to hear him talk about the journey. Playing for Herb Brooks, all these stories about his teammates, playing in that championship game.

You had a big game with the PWHPA at Madison Square Garden on 28 February, marking the first time pro women’s hockey has ever been played there. What stands out to you from that night?

When Billie Jean King was talking to us before puck drop and we were all lined up on the blue line. I just thought that was so cool. I mean, to be playing at the most famous arena in the world and Billie Jean King is giving the opening speech! I think that’s the direction we’re trying to trend toward, to get on some of the biggest stages.

I wish we could have had fans, because a packed house at Madison Square Garden would have been really cool. But obviously COVID didn’t allow that. Still, it didn’t take away from the moment. It was really special for a lot of us to play there.

You were named to the 2020 Women’s Worlds roster as well, but of course, the pandemic got in the way. Is there a difference between the player you would have been on that team versus who you are now?

This year has been weird because we haven’t gotten to play a lot of games. So a lot of it is getting back into game shape. But skating with the girls in Minnesota – most of them are national team members themselves – has really improved me as a player.
Going into the Worlds in 2020, it would have been nice to come off of a college season of playing 40 games, rolling right into these games. But you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do. And as this year’s tournament goes on, we’re just going to continue to get better, myself included. So I think the roles would have been pretty similar. Just approaching it from a different point of view.

With all the pandemic shutdowns, how much have you had to improvise to get your workouts in?

At the beginning of COVID, I was still in Madison, Wisconsin. I lived there through the summer after I finished my last year. At that time, everything was closed. You couldn’t get on the ice or in a weight room really. I improvised for sure, and some people in my apartment shared in that.

My uncle actually had a squat rack and my dad drove it over to Madison with some other weights. And I set up the squat rack in my apartment. [laughs] We eventually got to go back on the ice with limited numbers of people. But the craziest thing was literally to have a full gym in our living room! It was kind of awesome. I just woke up, went right outside my door, and I was lifting. It made for a fun story.

Otherwise, Minnesota has been great this year. Obviously you always get a couple of shutdowns if somebody is exposed, stuff like that. But pro players in Minnesota were able to skate all the way through, even when the state got shut down. So that was pretty nice.

In Madison, did you live on the ground floor? I’m just imagining the sound of 200 pounds or whatever hitting the floor.

[laughs] The apartment was on the 12th floor and there was actually a balcony too. Great view of the Madison Capitol building! But yeah, I tried to be gentle. I was doing my jumping outside on the patio, so hopefully the people below me didn’t hate me!

With quarantine here and so much time in your room, what ways have you found to entertain yourself? 

I just finished the show Suits on Canadian Netflix. I watched it way back in the day and I never got to watch the last season. I also watched a lot of Parks and Rec. Great little comedy show, probably one of my favourite shows.

I’ve been reading a new novel called The Last Mrs. Parrish. I’m a big country music girl, and I listen to a lot of Kacey Musgraves. I hear she’s coming out with a new album, so I wish that would have come out while I was in quarantine!

As well, I’ve done a very detailed animal colouring book. It’s like different animals, a lot of different lines you try to fill in. A lot of the girls have different adult colouring books.

But during quarantine, honestly, there wasn’t that much time. We were on the bike two times a day, with maybe a third different workout with resistance bands. They kept us busy!

In 2013, Jocelyn Lamoureux wrote her Master’s thesis about the benefits of girls playing against boys. How did playing against boys right through high school benefit you?

I think it was a big piece in my development, especially coming from my situation, where there wasn’t girls’ hockey for me to play locally. Being able to play with the guys made me a lot tougher, for sure. And that’s why I became so smart with the puck. I had to think a step ahead of everybody else, or I was gonna get put through the boards.

In girls’ hockey, I’m considered a big, tough player, but in guys’ hockey, I’m considered tough but not big. So if I held on to the puck too long or didn’t see the play developing, there was probably going to be a turnover. I always had to make sure I got rid of that puck before I got hit.

Compared to a guy, I wasn’t as fast as them for sure. So I was always having to use my brain to make up for what my feet or my size didn’t allow. Seeing the ice just helped me so much when switching over from boys’ hockey to girls’ hockey. It was always my strong suit in both.

Bodychecking was only allowed at the original Women’s Worlds in 1990 in Ottawa. Are you pro- or anti-bodychecking in women’s hockey?

I would love to see bodychecking in women’s hockey. I really would! I think all the girls can handle it. Everybody’s tough. Either way, it’s a great game. Because there’s no bodychecking, sometimes we have to make different plays and do different styles of play.

I think in girls’ hockey, there’s such a disparity in terms of size that sometimes bigger players get a lot more penalties just because they are stronger, not necessarily because of the plays they’re making. But there’s still a lot of checking in girls hockey.  It’s a pretty physical game either way.

Who do you enjoy watching in women’s hockey or the NHL?

One of my favourite things to watch is honestly Hilary Knight scoring goals, because she has an insane shot. In practice, I skated with her all this year in Minnesota. You just watch her score goals and it’s automatic.

In the NHL, obviously there’s a lot of players that do some really fancy things. For me, I’m a really big fan of Patrice Bergeron. I think he just plays the game the right way, a 200-feet game. Watching him do his thing, he’s such a responsible hockey player. He does it all for the Bruins.

Who are some of the NHL players you’ve encountered that stand out?

My dad coached Doug Weight, who had a long NHL career. When John Tavares got drafted by the New York Islanders, he actually moved in with Doug for his first year, and he would come skate in Michigan, pretty close to where I was from, before the season started. Doug has a son, Danny, who’s a couple years younger than me, so he would go out and skate around too.

It was pretty cool, being out there with John Tavares, Doug Weight, and Danny. Tavares is a super-nice guy. I was jumping into drills, but because there was only two of them on the ice, they probably were like, “Oh, we need a break anyways!” [laughs] But Tavares just loved to watch us go through the drills and try our best, even though I don’t even know how well that went! I was about 12. But he was great and had a lot of fun with us.

Going to games, I always see a lot of players around, including guys my dad coached. Watching them have good careers and be in the NHL is pretty fun.

What was your favourite international women’s hockey memory growing up?

On the women’s side, the 2014 gold medal game [in Sochi] was pretty devastating for USA Hockey. Just a crazy game. But it was still one of my favorite memories. Four of my best friends from my hockey team were actually over at my house in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan to watch the game. We all had USA jerseys on. I have a backyard ice rink. We were skating and then we came inside and watched the whole game in my living room. I remember we ordered Little Caesars Pizza.

I think that was the first year I really appreciated women’s Olympic hockey for what it was. In the years before, maybe I liked to watch it, but didn’t really appreciate how great it was, realizing who these players were. Before that, I was just playing my own hockey and having fun.

So watching that game with my best of them actually passed away a couple days ago. He got in an accident. But I had a picture of it, him and me and the three other guys decked out in USA gear. So even though that game wasn’t the outcome we wanted, I just remember how into it we all were and how great of a day that was for us.

That’s a special memory. And our condolences about your friend. You’ve also spoken recently, as someone with heritage from the Wahnapitae First Nation, about how hockey is trending toward becoming more inclusive nowadays. What do you see as the most positive signs? 

The biggest positive I’ve seen is a lot of organizations getting more diverse in hockey. NHL teams are hiring people of colour and women and so on. They realize that they are valuable. To make the sport more inclusive, people need to see people like themselves in the sport. 
You’re  also seeing more BIPOC players obviously succeeding. Not just one or two – it’s becoming more and more players. It is still a very small number, obviously at the NHL level or in girls’ hockey as well. So you hope that number increases. But the initiatives teams are creating to make sure that they can introduce hockey to all different cultures and peoples, that’s promising to me.

Who inspires you the most in life?

One person would definitely be my dad. He’s kind of the reason I got into hockey. His brain for hockey is just incredible. Watching what he’s gone through to get to where he is, he was a small player. He didn’t have a lot growing up, for sure, but he just went with it. He played Division I hockey, and he had a great little run there. Right after that, he started coaching and just worked his way up to being a scout in the NHL. He’s a good inspiration to watch, somebody who never takes anything for granted, works hard, and is just grateful.

Speaking of not taking things for granted, how does it feel to know that if everything goes according to plan, you could be at the Olympics in Beijing in less than six months?

Yeah, that’s obviously the dream for me and so many other girls. It’s kind of crazy to think about. I think a lot of us try not to get too far ahead of ourselves. You’re still fighting for a spot while being on a team. So it’s a weird situation to be in, because you want all of your teammates and friends to succeed, but you’re also all hoping to make that Olympic roster. For most of us, it’s just taking it one day at a time.