Abby Roque is no stranger to being a trailblazer. From her childhood in northern Michigan to winning a national championship at Wisconsin, the hockey forward has continually defied odds on the ice.
Given the choice between moving to Canada to play for an all-girls team or staying in Michigan and trying out for the high school boys team, Roque opted to stay home — a choice that came with distinction of being the varsity squad’s lone female and freshman.
Nearly a decade later, Roque took to the rink in the first-ever women’s professional hockey game in Madison Square Garden and scored the opening goal for Team Adidas — Minnesota Region.
All these moments helped prepare Roque for her biggest stage yet — the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics where she is preparing to become the first Native American woman to represent the U.S. in ice hockey.
Despite professional hockey being overwhelmingly white, Roque — a member of the Ojibwe tribe of the First Nations of Canada — sees hockey and indigenous culture as complementary to one another with both invoking a deep sense of community.
“Indigenous cultures are truly just so tight knit,” Roque said in an interview with NBC LX’s My New Favorite Olympian series. “And I think that is the best thing about it, is it just is usually such a tight-knit community where people want to help each other, people want to be there for each other. And I think that’s really special.”
Here’s everything you need to know about Abby Roque and how her community has inspired her career as one of the best female hockey players in the country.
Who is Abby Roque?
Abby Roque is an American ice hockey forward from Sault Ste. Marie, Mich. The 24-year-old grew up competing throughout the Upper Peninsula and Canada before attending the University of Wisconsin.
In her junior season, Roque helped lead the Badgers to the 2018-19 NCAA national championship in women’s hockey.
How did Abby Roque first get involved in ice hockey?
Roque was raised along the Michigan-Canadian border, where it’s cold nearly nine months a year. She described her hometown of Sault Ste. Marie as a “hockey community,” where everyone is involved with the sport in one way or another.
Her dad, Jim, coached at Lake Superior State for much of Abby’s childhood, before transitioning to professional hockey where he currently serves as an NHL scout with the Toronto Maple Leafs.
When Abby was young, Jim built a rink in their backyard that was frequented by neighbors. Many of Abby’s earliest memories aren’t of organized hockey, but rather shinny — a Native American game resembling hockey.
What is shinny?
Shinny is a Native American sport that is a cross between hockey and lacrosse. The objective of the game is to pass a rounded ball between two designated goal posts using long, curved sticks. Shinny is particularly popular in northern Michigan and Canada where there are large concentrations of Indigenous people.
What Native American tribe is Abby Roque?
Roque is Ojibwe, one of the Indigenous populations of the First Nations. The First Nations are one of three major groups of Indigenous communities in Canada.
Her uncle, Larry Roque, is chief of the Wahnapitae. As chief, he is working alongside other First Nation leaders to increase access and resources to young athletes in their community, starting with an ice rink.
Where did Abby Roque play high school hockey?
Faced with the choice of moving to Canada to play with an all-girls team or staying in Michigan and trying out for the boys team, Roque decided to stick to her roots. It’s a decision she credits as having made her the player she is today.
Sault Area High School head coach John Ferroni was instrumental in welcoming her to the team and ensuring that she was held to the same standards as her male teammates. Ferroni built a locker room for Roque that provided her privacy and easy access to the team locker room.
Ferroni said Roque continues to inspire young girls in Sault Ste. Marie, several of whom have followed in her footsteps and joined the high school team. He once had two girls request to sit where Roque sat during her time as a Blue Devil.
“I kind of had to squeeze them into the stall together,” Ferroni said in an interview with NBC LX’s My Favorite Olympian podcast. “But you know, there’s an influence right there.”
When did Abby Roque decide to be an activist for other indigenous athletes?
Many of Roque’s childhood friends were Native American but at Wisconsin, she skated with dozens of athletes who had never met a Native American or Indigenous person.
She said during this time she saw the lack of representation in hockey and it gave her appreciation for the community that raised her, propelling her forward to taking an active role in championing the message that her sport needs to be a place for all.
“I think that’s 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,” Roque said. “… If you’re good enough to play with the boys, play with the boys. And even if they don’t think you’re good enough to play with them, show them plain and simple.”
Who are some of Abby Roque’s role models?
One of Roque’s biggest inspirations is former-NHL coach Ted Nolan. Nolan, a fellow member of the Ojibwe tribe, began his coaching career across the river from Roque’s hometown before accepting the head coaching position with the Buffalo Sabres.
As a teenager, Roque came to admire Capitals winger and Stanley Cup Champion T.J. Oshie, a fellow member of the Ojibwe Nation. Oshie reached Olympic glory himself in 2014 when he connected on four of six shootout attempts to defeat host-country Russia in a preliminary round matchup of the Sochi Games.
What were some of Abby’s goals growing up?
Jim Roque carries a letter in his bag from seventh-grade Abby that lists three goals: drive a Mustang, attend the University of Wisconsin and play in the Olympics. She checked off one of those goals — attending the University of Wisconsin — in style.
Roque never missed a game in four years with the Badgers. She scored over 40 points in each of her final three seasons, including a personal-high of 58 points her senior season.
While she’s yet to drive a Mustang, Roque is one step closer to completing her bucket list with the Beijing Olympics just around the corner.