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Olympian Abby Roque returns to UP for youth hockey camp

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SAULT ST. MARIE, Michigan (WJMN) — Ice hockey is a big part of Sault Ste. Marie’s culture and history. For Abby Roque, a native of Soo, playing the game has always run through her veins.

“My dad probably started building an ice rink when I was two, I don’t think I really skated, I was more in a sled and pulled. But around that time I was actually wearing skates. But around that time I was actually wearing skates. I started with figure skating and eventually got them to make the switch to hockey skates when I was probably five or six years old. Since then I’ve just been skating, playing hockey, Roque said.

Over the weekend, Roque returned to her hometown for the first time since she took silver with Team USA’s women’s hockey in Beijing. Passing on her own skills and knowledge of hockey to the next generation of athletes is a special feeling for Roque.

“The Abby Roque Hockey Camp, it’s something I think growing up I never thought I’d have my own camp here. I was normally the kid who would go to all these camps and just skate at the Big Bear, skate at the Norris Center or in my backyard, everywhere. It’s great to have these kids that I was on the ice once. It’s only three days of two different groups. We go out and do some skill work and then play some games, try to get some creativity going and let them have honest fun, because that’s the most important thing in hockey. I always say that if you’re having fun, the only way to progress in hockey is that you should really enjoy it.”

The youth camp was held at the Big Bear Arena, or the Chi Mukwa, on tribal land owned by the Sault Ste. Marie tribe of Chippewa Indians. Being an Indigenous woman herself, it is a full moment for Roque, who was the first Indigenous player on the U.S. women’s hockey team.

“To me I mean that I get to represent the indigenous people at the games, of course it’s an incredible honour. I think when you grow up here, like you said, you’re surrounded by the native culture and you don’t really think that other people haven’t experienced something like this. And when I left and went to college, you kind of realized that nobody else on my team is native, most of them haven’t even played with a native player in their entire career, so it’s just a point of pride for me to be that first person to be on the American women’s list as a native player,” Roque said.

“I think just being able to talk and answer questions for teammates and players, and hopefully be a role model for young Indigenous children who want to play is something I’m very proud of and it’s something I think is very important for the Hockey sport itself is to diversify just because it hasn’t always been diverse. We’re getting there, but there’s still a long way to go.”

Children of all ages and genders took part 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 children, especially here on the Upper Peninsula. We don’t have many people of that kind of caliber that we can attach ourselves to, especially in women’s sports and women’s hockey. And just add as a native role model that kids can attach to that now. It just adds that extra bit of what’s possible. They can all have these kinds of dreams and if they work hard they can achieve anything they want,” Gordon said.

From the lone girl on the Sault Area High School 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 thought 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 when you grow up you think there are no girls in the NHL What can I do And you start people like Hilary Knight and watch these great American Olympians play and you think, ‘Oh, I can do that!’ like that’s the highest level in my sport.

“I think I kept playing later in life and I was a pretty good player but I didn’t make it to the national team and I don’t think I really expected at some point I was just playing and doing my best did in Wisconsin. That was my main goal to win a national championship there and then all of a sudden everything just fell into place and I made my first national team my last year there and I think I was like, ‘Okay, I can do that Olympic team if I keep pushing and trying.’”

At just 24 years old, Roque plans to continue lacing those skates in hopes of winning gold someday.

“Hockey means the world to me. It’s been a part of every part of my life, honestly. I grew up the daughter of a hockey coach and after that I played hockey all my life, I still do 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 really influenced me in so many different ways to meet great people and make 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 could be more grateful for this sport.”

Roque will host another hockey camp in Grand Rapids from June 17-19. For more information, Click here.

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