Abby Roque ready for her close-up as USA Hockey’s first Indigenous female player

USA Hockey forward Abby Roque skates at the 2021 IIHF Women's World Championship.
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USA Hockey forward Abby Roque was just a seventh grader when she wrote herself a letter listing her lofty ambitions: Drive a Mustang; go to Wisconsin; play in the Olympics.

The 24-year-old Roque captured a national title with the Wisconsin Badgers in 2019, and she’ll check another goal off her list next month when she makes her Olympic debut in Beijing. What’s more, the Michigan native, who grew up in Sault Ste. Marie, Mich., on the ancestral lands of the Ojibwe First Nation, will become the first Indigenous woman to represent Team USA in women’s ice hockey at the Winter Olympics.

“Just thinking about that is very surreal, but also makes you very grateful,” said Roque in a new episode of NBC’s “My New Favorite Olympian” podcast.

Roque and her family are members of the Wahnapitae First Nation, part of the Ojibwe First Nation based in northern Ontario. As the daughter of a hockey coach, current Toronto Maple Leafs scout Jim Roque, she grew up with an ice rink in her backyard every winter, inviting friends over to play “shinny” for countless hours and tagging along with her father to practices and games.

“For me, hockey was so accessible and so part of my life that it never was truly a challenge for me to just fall in love with it and be playing it, where so many kids aren’t as lucky,” she said.

With encouragement from her father, Roque has made a point of using her platform to shine a light not only on her story as an Indigenous female athlete, but also on other Indigenous stories and programs that encourage inclusivity and access for young female and BIPOC players.

“A big thing is just making sure that everybody knows that there’s a place in the sport for them and that they shouldn’t be intimidated,” she said. “You’re not confident? I’m just like, ‘No, you belong on the ice.’”

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Roque proved she belonged from start, earning her spot as the only girl on the boys’ team in high school. At Wisconsin, she played every game (77 overall) over her last two seasons and was a finalist for the Patty Kazmaier Memorial Award honoring the top U.S. female college ice hockey player. She made her U.S. Women’s National Team debut at the 2019-20 Rivalry Series, and her international career includes included two appearances on the USWNT for the IIHF Women’s World Championship tournaments where the Americans won silver in 2021.

Now, Roque and her U.S. Olympic teammates head to China as the defending gold medalists after ending a 20-year drought in 2018 with a shootout win over Canada. Fifteen of the 23 players on the U.S. roster have prior Olympic experience, including Kendall Coyne Schofield, Brianna Decker and four-time Olympian Hilary Knight, who hailed Roque’s arrival last year by telling reporters, “I think she’s going to be the best player in the world. Plain and simple.”

The U.S. opens its title defense against world No. 3 Finland on Feb. 3, and Roque says she’s ready for the challenge – and the spotlight: “[My father told me,] if you can go be somewhere and be visible and help kids like grow the game and help kids learn how to play, he’s like, ‘Just try to give back.’ And I think for me, that’s just the main point. …You always want to help the game be better.”

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(The full episode of My New Favorite Olympian podcast featuring USA Hockey’s Abby Roque is embedded above. You can also listen to the My New Favorite Olympian podcast on Apple, Spotify, or your favorite podcast app.)