The Asian community of Minnesota has a lot to be proud of, and can now say that it is home to the nation’s best female hockey player. Julie Chu, the best American-born collegiate woman hockey player in the country for 2006-07, is now an Assistant Coach in Women’s Hockey at the University of Minnesota – Duluth.
Chu works under UMD head coach Shannon Miller, and fellow first assistant coach, two-time Canadian Olympic gold medalist Caroline Ouellette. UMD allows the two the opportunity to develop as coaches and also to train with a Division I team in the hunt for the national championship.
At just 25, Chu graduated from Harvard last June and plans continue playing for the US National Team as long as she can. She may possibly play in her third Olympics at Harbin, China in 2010.
“Its really a great situation,” said Chu. “Ice sessions are rare once you graduate, and here I have the opportunity to coach at a great program surrounded by great people.”
Chu had planned to teach and coach after college, but said that landing the UMD job was a bit of a surprise and good timing.
“It’s a great way to stay involved in a different capacity, and to gain a different perspective on the sport,” said Chu. “It’s a great job and something I love.”
Chu brings great energy and works well one-on-one with technical skills and with the pressure of competing at Division I level. She is in excellent shape and leads the team in conditioning and jogging. She is very good with team building exercises that are designed to develop and strengthen off-ice personal relationships of the team members – which in turn help on-ice relationships.
“I am very pleased to have her on my staff,” said Coach Miller, adding that even as a new assistant coach, Chu has already proven herself as a coach. She said it helps to be an outstanding player from a successful program, as an elite athlete and a fantastic role model for the players.
“She can assist within the team system tremendously with skills development and individual habits,” said Miller.
No other program in the country has two recently graduated former champion players that still play for their respective national teams as assistant coaches. They coach and also skate in practice with the players to keep in shape for Team USA Evaluation Camp and the November Four-Nation Cup with Canada, Sweden and Finland. It helps to take skate with UMD’s players from America, Sweden, Russia, Canada and Finland.
Skating coaches raised a few eyebrows said Miller, but she backed up her decision, saying that she “wanted to hire the best-of-the-best.”
“But honestly, this is a fantastic situation for them and for out team,” Miller added. “It has worked out even better than I had hoped.”
The Bulldogs are currently 16-3-1, and ranked Number 4 in the nation. They have a long way to go until March 2008. “It is a long season and it is a sprint to the end,” said Chu. “It has been great so far.”
Chu said she will learn plenty about coaching from Miller, now in her ninth season at UMD, with six NCAA playoff appearances and three straight Championship titles (2001-2003). An Alberta, Ontario native, Miller also coached Canada to a sliver medal at the 1998 Winter Olympics.
Coaching is a valuable new perspective on the game, said Chu. She has found new ways see the same situations that she faces as a player. “I enjoy the process and hope to get better,” she added.
Chu uses game clips as teaching points. She interacts with the players mostly about hockey, but also deals with personal issues, and wants the players to feel comfortable enough to talk with her about anything.
“These are all factors that make the team successful, and it takes individual success to make success for the team as a whole,” she said.
Tawni Mattila, a UMD forward and a junior from Duluth, said Chu is a very positive coach who gives the players great feedback.
“Everyone on our team looks up to her and respects everything she has to say,” said Mattila. “She has been a great contribution to our team. It is great having someone with elite experience, and she helps bring more intensity to our practices and to our games.”
Chu graduated from Harvard this past June with a bachelor’s degree in psychology and women’s studies. She was co-captain of the women’s hockey team and was named to the ECAC and Ivy League All-Academic Team for keeping high grades while playing hockey. She was named to the 2002 and 2006 Olympic team, and remains the first and only Asian American woman to reach that level of play.
For her senior year, Chu was also named the Ivy League Co-Player of the Year, and the USA Hockey Player of the Year, an award given to the top American-born player, and called officially, the “Bob Allen Women’s Player of the Year.”
The USA Hockey Foundation named Julie Chu the 2007 Patty Kazmaier Award winner and presented her with the honor at the Hilton Lake Placid, New York on March 17, 2007. She was also a finalist for the award in 2006.
The award is the women’s ice hockey equivalent of the men’s Hobey Baker Award (Hockey’s Heisman trophy). It was named for Patty Kazmaier, who led the University of New Hampshire ice hockey team to Ivy League championships in the 1980s. She was also a teacher, a wife and mother who passed away from a rare blood disease at the age of 28 in 1990.
“It was a great honor to receive the award, especially given the number of talented college players there are today,” said Chu. “But, I always say that if it weren’t for the great people in my life, I would never have the success that I do.
“So to say I alone won that award is a bit of an overstatement as I feel my teammates, my coaches and my family played a huge factor in my success,” she added. “As for capping off my college career with that award, it is always nice to get recognized individually, but to be honest, I would trade all the individual awards I have received to have been able to win a National Championship with my team. That would have been the sweetest end to an amazing college experience.”
There is a long process to pick the winner and Chu said she wasn’t expecting to get the award. Coaches all around the country nominate various players and then vote for ten semi-finalists from the list. The coaches vote again to select the top three finalists, and again for the winner.
This long and complicated process made Chu feel like a small part of something much bigger than her self. “…I know how talented the other college players are, so I truly believed it could go to a number of individuals.
“I would never have been able to do it if I didn’t have great teammates to play with and amazing coaches to guide me,” she added. “In addition, my family has been my rock and their constant love and support has truly allowed me to pursue my dreams. So, it is easy to remain humble when I realize that many people contribute to my success and I would not be so fortunate with out those people.”
Raised in Fairfield, Connecticut, and schooled at the prestigious Choate Rosemary Hall (where she was MVP in their 1999 New England Prep School Hockey Championship), Chu went on to Harvard and the Olympics. So what does this true blue Ivy leaguer think of Duluth?
“At first I was not sure how it would be, and to be honest it is great,” she said. “I am so busy with hockey and spending time with the team that I don’t really miss anything.
“The only downfall is that you don’t see the family that much, but my parents have been here three times already to see me with the team.”
Chu is fond of the local restaurants and feels at home with the players, coaches and a city that really supports women’s hockey. The Harvard community supported her team wonderfully, said Chu, but Boston has so many professional and collegiate teams that their fan base didn’t extend far beyond the students, alumni and families.
“The UMD support is incredible,” she said. “We walk around and people know who we are, and how the game went, and we have an outpouring of support from the community, especially for the girls and the recognition is nice.”
Hockey is a great opportunity for girls to get into a sport where they can excel fast. Chu says there is a higher percentage Asian American girls playing hockey every year. She has seen the caliber of play increase several times, especially since 2002 and 2006.
At 25, Chu believes that the first Olympic team in 1998 was a pioneering model that opened the eyes of the girls who are now coming through high school and into the college teams. She credits the Olympics and the exposure that has led to sponsorships and opened the eyes of young girls who want to play and to be competitive. The number of players around the country has grown and leads to more teams and scholarships.
“They only want to have the opportunity to play and have fun like boys,” she said. “They are able to develop at a higher rate and today’s teens have been playing a lot longer that the girls of the past have before them.”