On ice with the world’s best

When she stepped on the ice to play the gold-medal game in Buffalo, Kaitlin Tse had a flashback.

Canada’s Kaitlin Tse makes a pass during preliminary round action against the US at the 2015 IIHF Ice Hockey U18 Women’s World Championship in Buffalo, New York on Jan. 5.  Photo: Francois Laplante/HHOF-IIHG Images
Canada’s Kaitlin Tse makes a pass during preliminary round action against the US at the 2015 IIHF Ice Hockey U18 Women’s World Championship in Buffalo, New York on Jan. 5.
Photo: Francois Laplante/HHOF-IIHG Images

It felt just like the women’s hockey final at the 2006 Olympics – two arch rivals and an arena split by chants of “Can-a-da!” and “U-S-A!”

“I’ll never forget it, for sure,” said Tse, a local high school senior who played defence for Canada’s under-18 women’s team at the Jan. 12 world final.

“Wearing the Canadian jersey is something that young girls across Canada dream of doing, because we can’t play in the NHL.”

While the USA’s 3-2 win wasn’t the final score Tse wanted, it came on an overtime power play after three periods of exciting, close-fought hockey.

Some 13,500 fans filled seats at the eight-team tournament in Buffalo, well above the 9,800 who saw it in Calgary when the under-18 women’s worlds began back in 2008.

“That’s good to see,” said Tse. “Women’s hockey doesn’t get much coverage, but with this tournament we got the fans, and the competition was definitely up there.”

Canada and the US have traded gold every year since 2008, but other teams are gathering strength.

“If Russia keeps developing, and Czech as well, I think they might have a run at it next year or the years to come,” said Tse, noting that both gave Canada “a good go” in the semis.

As for Tse, the hockey season is not nearly over.

Besides weekend games and weeknight practices with the Aeros, Toronto’s provincial women’s hockey team, Tse will fly to Prince George, B.C. next month to play for Ontario at the Canada Winter Games.

Off the ice, the 17 year-old has more challenges ahead – Grade 12 exams and the first year of a science degree at Harvard University.

“I don’t know how she handles it,” said her father Jonas. “I’m glad it’s her and not me!”

Kaitlin was five when she started playing hockey, he said, and it wasn’t long before she played field and box lacrosse as well.

Like her twin brother Colin, she wasn’t content to watch her older brother Matthew, who now plays lacrosse for McGill and Hong Kong’s national team, have all the fun at the rink.

“I’ve always looked up to my older brother,” she said. “There was no pressure, really, to succeed, but I guess it comes with having two brothers and three kids in the household.”

Kaitlin has played lacrosse for Team Ontario, hockey for a top-tier US under-16 team, not to mention violin for the all-city orchestra of Toronto’s public school board.

A top student, too, Kaitlin seems to have picked up only one objectionable habit – cheering for the Boston Bruins. It’s something she started doing in Grade 9, when she was recruited to play hockey for a Connecticut prep school and a club team just outside the city.

“Yeah, it’s kind of frowned-upon in Toronto after that playoff loss,” she said, laughing. “But just being in Boston, I love the city. That’s part of why I’m going back there for college.”

Tse said her end goal is to become an orthopedic surgeon, a dream that began at a difficult time, when she herself needed hip surgery nearly two years ago.

“I really liked the surgeon that I had,” she said, adding that he had a good attitude, a focus on sports medicine, and kept her well informed.

“I’ve always known I wanted to be a doctor, but now I know what type.”

Tse will have plenty of Canadian company when she joins the women’s hockey team at Harvard. A third of the players on the current team are Canucks, including her good friend and fellow defenceman Sarah Edney, from Mississauga.

And while she faces tough competition to get there, Tse hopes to wear a Team Canada jersey again, this time for the under-22 team.

“It was a huge honour to represent Canada,” she said. “I wouldn’t trade it for the world, even though we won silver.

“It’s something really special to represent something much bigger than yourself.”

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