Forward Julie Chu is making her third Olympic appearance in Vancouver, looking to add to her silver medal from 2002 and bronze from 2006. Chu has been a member of the national team since 2001, winning the world title with the team in 2005, 2008 and 2009, in addition to world silver medals in 2001, 2004 and 2007. Chu led the 2009 tournament with 10 points and was named one of Team USA’s top-three players. Chu lives in Blaine, Minn., as part of the women’s residency program, and shares a townhouse with teammates Kerry Weiland and Karen Thatcher.
Chu played four years at Harvard University, setting the NCAA record for career points (284). She is also Harvard’s all-time assists leader with 196, and was co-captain as a junior (2004-05) and, after taking a year off to play in Torino, as a senior (2006-07). She led the Crimson to three-straight NCAA championship game appearances. In her senior year, Chu led the team in scoring with 66 points (18-48) in 30 games. Chu was a three-time All-American, including first team in 2007. Chu earned her degree in psychology in 2007 and would like to begin a teaching career after hockey.
In addition to playing for the national team and the Minnesota Whitecaps, Chu spent 2007-08 working as an assistant coach for the University of Minnesota-Duluth women’s team. That year, the team beat Wisconsin to win the NCAA title. Chu said doubling as a coach and player has helped her understand the game better. “I think that coaching experience has helped me appreciate a little bit more of what the coaches do and what it takes to have a successful team, beyond just the players playing well,” she said.
At age 8, Chu participated in figure skating lessons at the Wonderland of Ice in Bridgeport, Conn., which is about a 10-minute drive from her parents’ home in Fairfield. At one of her first sessions, Chu was skating less than gracefully when she caught a glimpse of her older brother, Richard, at the other end of the ice. He was practicing power skating with a learn-to-skate hockey group, and Julie was seething with jealousy. She knew then she wanted to play hockey. “I was so bad at figure skating,” she says. “I never even got to wear the cute outfits. I had on bulky clothes and when I fell down, like a turtle, I had to wait for an instructor to come pick me up.”
Chu asked her father if she could trade in her toe picks for hockey pads. Julie enrolled in a hockey clinic in Bridgeport and then proceeded up the youth hockey ladder playing for various boys teams. In 1996, while playing for a high-level youth team in Connecticut, the 13-year-old Chu noticed that many of the boys with whom she was playing were now approaching 6 feet tall, and gaining speed and muscle. “I made my decision to end my time playing guys hockey right then,” she says. “I thought I could seriously get hurt if I continued at that level.” After that, Chu gravitated toward the premier girls ice hockey team in the state, the Connecticut Polar Bears. She captained the Polar Bears in 1999, the year in which she won her last of four national titles with the team.
In fall 1997, Chu enrolled at Choate Rosemary Hall in Wallingford, Conn., a private boarding high school. Teammate Angela Ruggiero also played there. During her first three years at Choate, Chu played hockey for both the Polar Bears and the school team. With the school team, she had a record 101 goals and 112 assists in 71 career games. She also played soccer and softball and ascended to the school’s student presidency. But she relinquished the position just weeks after being elected because she was asked to play for the U.S. national team, which required her to take off two terms. Her first speech as president was a resignation speech. While training with the national team in Lake Placid, Chu took classes at nearby Northwood School and was able to graduate with her class in May 2001. She deferred her enrollment to Harvard until fall 2002 so that she could compete at the Salt Lake Games.
Chu’s father, Wah, was born in Canton (now called Guangzhou), China. Wah moved from Canton to then British-controlled Hong Kong at age 1 with his mother, who did not want her son growing up in communist China. In 1967, the mother and son emigrated to the U.S. when Wah was 16, settling in New York’s Chinatown. Shortly after arriving, Wah was attending a youth group meeting at a neighborhood church when he met his future wife. Julie’s mother, Miriam, lived on the Upper East Side and traveled downtown to attend the same youth group. The pair moved from New York City to Queens and then to Fairfield, in southwestern Connecticut. Wah works in consulting for a software company. Chu’s older brother, Richard, graduated from Skidmore College (N.Y.) in the spring of 2001. Her older sister, Christina, graduated from Fairfield University in Connecticut in 2002. Christina had her first child in July 2008, a girl named Sophia Ann, whom Julie visits as often as possible.
Before the Salt Lake City Olympic roster was announced, Chu’s father told her the whole family would get tattoos if she made the Olympic team. The day after the 2002 team was announced, Chu made sure he kept his promise. Mother Miriam and sister Christina wear the Olympic rings and Julie’s No. 13 on their ankles. Father Wah and brother Richard have matching tattoos on their arms. Julie has hers on the top of her foot. Before Torino, Wah made no such offer.
Meet the US Women’s Ice Hockey Team
As the two-time world champions, is there more pressure on you at the Olympics?
Julie: I think now that we have gone up to win back-to-back World Championships these past two years, I think that just built momentum to Vancouver. Some might think that is more pressure, saying, we just won two, you should win the third, and now they are coming at you with the target on your back. Maybe that is the case, but I think winning becomes a habit. And we are excited to be in the position we are and developing the younger players in our team and feeling good, heading towards the 2010 Games.
Talk about the rivalry with Canada. How would you characterize it?
Julie: Any time we play Canada, it is a huge rivalry. And I think it is one of those that is built out of respect, because we know how they play hard, but it has definitely got a competitive edge to it. So when we step on the ice, the gloves kind of come off. And not necessarily in the sense of fighting, but we will go out there and we will throw our bodies around and we will play physical and go after loose pucks and really try to win the game, whether it is a gold medal game or just an exhibition game. I don’t feel there is ever just an exhibition game with Canada. Oftentimes it is a gold medal mentality, and I think that is what makes the rivalry amazing.
See a heated rivalry! Girl fight!
And what do you expect the atmosphere to be like when you get to the Olympics?
Julie: I think when we arrive in Canada for the Olympics it is going to be just a lot of energy and the atmosphere is going to be incredible. Any time you get to the Olympic Games, the energy from the fans, the volunteers and the athletes is already bouncing off the walls, and you can feel it in every part of the village and the different venues. So in Vancouver, being the crazy place for hockey, we are really excited and knowing that we are going to meet some hostile fans probably that aren’t really cheering for our team, but, it is energy and excitement for women’s hockey. So it is ultimately for us also.
You’ve won Olympic silver and bronze. Does winning a gold motivate you?
Julie: I think the gold medal definitely is on our minds a lot. It is one of those things that that is our overarching goal, that is our dream to be able to get there, to have that medal put around our neck. So as we are training and preparing, I think that is kind of that distant thought. But at the same time we like to also make sure that we are staying in the moment. And we have to make sure that right now we are prepared and getting ready to do what we need to do at this moment.
What’s it like to be coached by Mark Johnson, a member of the 1980 Miracle on Ice team? Does he talk about the experience at all?
Julie: Coach Johnson is incredible and to be able to be coached by him and be able to see the way he interacts with the players and how he sees the game is invaluable to us. He really brings a great aspect to our forwards, especially, because he was such a great goal scorer. So having him be able to give us little pointers about, ‘OK, the goalie is probably going to shift doing this when you get the puck here off a pass. This is where you want to put it.’ You are like, ‘Oh, that makes so much sense. Before I was just shooting to the net to hope and praying to God that maybe it will go in.’ So, Coach Johnson is awesome and we are really lucky to have him on our staff.
In addition to hockey insights what has he brought to the team dynamics?
Julie: Coach Johnson is not only a technical coach, but he also does a great job building up the team off the ice, which is a huge component of it. I think anytime you have 20, 21 girls in an atmosphere, you have to find a way to kind of bring them all together and get them on the same page. I think he does a great job of being able to create an atmosphere where everyone feels like they can contribute and be themselves and be comfortable just being a part of the team in whatever role that they may have. So, he does a great job doing that, and I think it is a huge asset for us.
Do you have any plans for your post-hockey career?
Julie: I think after hockey is done, I’d still like to be able to travel the world a bit. But then ultimately, as a career I’d always like the teaching aspects of things. And growing up I wanted to be a teacher and a coach at a boarding school, and gradually that kind of transformed into wanting to be a coach at the college level. I was fortunate enough to work at the University of Minnesota-Duluth as assistant coach two years ago and we won a national championship. So I can’t complain about that experience. I think after I am done playing I’d like to get back into coaching and continue being involved in hockey.
Does working as a coach help you as a player?
Julie: Definitely, because I was doing both simultaneously, you definitely see and understand better the decisions the coaches make. Sometimes when you are playing all you want to do is, ‘I want to be on the ice again,’ ‘Why did the coach make this decision,’ or whatever it might be. And it is important to recognize that the coaches have a lot of reasons and a plan that they are working through. So although the players may not at the moment understand a certain decision that is made or why one player is playing or not, you have to understand and believe that there is a big game plan and there are a lot of different things that go into making a successful team. So I think that coaching experience has helped me appreciate a little bit more of what the coaches do and what it takes to have a successful team that is beyond just the players playing well.
The photo credit is: NBC / USOC