Julie Chu has been playing ice hockey since age eight. Now 31, she is one of the most accomplished women's players in U.S. history, but has fallen just short of winning gold medals in the past three Winter Olympics.
Chu is aiming to snap that streak at the upcoming Sochi Games in Russia, where the U.S. and Canada — two North American hockey powers — are consensus favorites to play for the gold.
The talented forward understands that for the Americans to capture the gold in Sochi, they will likely have to beat Canada, and she is excited about the opportunity.
“We have had a long history against the Canadian women’s team, and it runs on our men’s side as well," said Chu, the oldest player on the U.S. team and one of its leaders. "When you are so close in proximity, I think that that’s a natural rivalry and two great hockey countries. And so we are really excited every time we get a chance to step on the ice against them leading up to not only a tournament but also any kind of competition."
Most talented U.S. team
Canada has won three straight Olympic gold medals, beating the Americans in the finals in 2002 and 2010. The United States took the bronze medal in 2006, when Sweden won the silver.
But the United States recently defeated Canada four games to two in a recent six-game exhibition series. The Americans also have won four of the last five world championships.
With 21 players from those world championship teams, including 11 with Olympic experience, Chu believes this is the most talented U.S. Olympic women's ice hockey team ever.
Despite such depth, the U.S. women's team lacks for publicity compared with its male counterparts, but that doesn't bother Chu.
“I think for us, we just try to do what we do best, and that is play hockey," she said. "Obviously we would love for it to be covered all the time, and I think the more we keep getting out into our communities, pushing our sport, doing interviews, hopefully that coverage will increase. But right now we are loving hockey. We are loving being a part of this Olympic journey.”
Chu has been on the U.S. national team since 2002, winning five world championships. She played in college at Harvard University, finishing as the all-time leading scorer in NCAA history.
Playing since childhood
Chu's parents are both of Chinese origin and she is the first Asian-American woman to play for the U.S. Olympic ice hockey team.
Hockey "found" her, as she put it, more than two decades ago.
"When I was eight years old and started playing hockey, it was not really an option," Chu said. "Soccer was the first sport a lot of girls played in [the eastern U.S. state of] Connecticut where I grew up, and I somehow fell into it, and I am so fortunate that my parents actually said yes and allowed me to play when it probably was easier for them to be like, `Girls are not supposed to do that.'”
Chu made her presence known on the ice, in part, by checking boys into the boards.
“I did play checking hockey," she said. "So I was physical a couple of times with the boys. But at the same time, I got knocked around plenty of times too.”