One of the premier publications in the world on ice hockey, The Hockey News, recently ranked Hayley Wickenheiser and Meghan Agosta as the best two women’s players in the world. Heading into the Sochi 2014 Winter Games, that ranking may need to change to reflect Julie Chu’s status as the world’s best.
While Chu may not be as prolific a scorer as Agosta and Wickenheiser, she has quietly emerged as a leader and the heartbeat of the US National Team. She was recognized by Katey Stone as the captain for the US at the 2012 IIHF World Championships. Although the US National Team has a lot of young, talented players emerging (such as Hannah Brandt, Kendall Coyne, Amanda Kessel, Meaghan Mangene), they will benefit greatly from the wisdom and maturity of a strong leader. Chu has proven she has the tools to bring out the best in younger players.
For several years, Chu was an assistant coach (with Montreal Stars teammate Caroline Ouellette) at the University of Minnesota-Duluth. Having learned under the tutelage of elite coach Shannon Miller, Chu honed her coaching skills, and learned how to motivate. Her education under Miller reached fruition as UMD won the NCAA Frozen Four in 2008 (their first since 2003). The coaching skills she acquired will help give the young prospects on the US National Team the opportunity to develop into elite superstars, as they attempt to win gold at the 2014 Sochi Games.
Her play with the Montreal Stars of the Canadian Women’s Hockey League may not garner as much attention as other players on the team, but she has a presence on the team. In her two years with the Stars, the league scoring record has been shattered twice (Caroline Ouellette – 2011, Meghan Agosta – 2012). While it may not have been Chu that broke the record, her skill takes the pressure off of others around her. In addition, Chu’s contributions in the early history of the Clarkson Cup speak volumes about her abilities. Chu is the only player to have participated in the first four Clarkson Cups (2009 to 2012). She is the only player to have won three consecutive Clarkson Cups (2010 – Minnesota Whitecaps, 2011 and 2012 – Montreal Stars), while becoming the first player to have won the Clarkson Cup with two different teams (Minnesota and Montreal), respectively.
Her finest hour may have been the 2010 Clarkson Cup. As a member of the Minnesota Whitecaps, the team eliminated the defending champion Montreal Stars in the semi-finals. In the championship game, the Whitecaps had less than a dozen players suited up for the game, and managed to beat the Brampton Thunder (who had Winter Games medalists, Gillian Apps, Lori Dupuis Molly Engstrom, and Jayna Hefford on the roster).
A gold medal at the Sochi Games will make Julie Chu the second American to be part of the Triple Gold Club for Women (the criteria is winning gold at the Winter Games, gold at the World Championships, and the Clarkson Cup). The first American woman was Jenny Potter, who also won an NCAA championship (a rare grand slam in women’s ice hockey).
The National Hockey League has proven that just because a player scores many points, it is not indicative of their leadership or attitude. Some of the best players in the league are known for their defensive skills rather than offensive prowess. The Wisconsin Badgers women’s team (which played in the most recent NCAA Frozen Four) recognized Lauren Unser (who had less than six points), as the most inspiring player on the team. The most important aspects of sport are sportsmanship and winning graciously. As an articulate ambassador for the game, Chu might finish her career having won more than any other player, the true measure of the best player.