By Charlene Bidula
Originally published on the Women's Hockey Life website here.
Scoring on an assist by Tie Domi… assisting on another goal by Gary Roberts. These sound like some of the many plays of an NHL player, yet they are now a chapter of the life of 2013 Mario Lemieux Fantasy Hockey Camper, Jackie Soo.
The Mario Lemieux Fantasy Hockey Camp is a yearly event that, according to their website, was established to raise funds for the cancer research projects of the Mario Lemieux Foundation, and to create the best fantasy hockey camp in the world, by bringing in Hall of Fame and All-Pro celebrity guests who are not only huge names in the world of hockey, but are engaging personalities willing to create a team atmosphere which provides campers with an NHL experience unlike any other. All proceeds benefit the Mario Lemieux Foundation, as well as Austin’s Playroom Project. Proceeds from this year’s event also helped fund the Mario Lemieux Center for Blood Cancers at the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute. This years Camp was held January 5-9 in Pittsburgh.
Jackie Soo was born and raised in Calgary, Alberta, Canada and grew up as a Calgary Flames fan. She’s been ice skating all of her life and has been playing hockey for the past 15 years in many places around the world including Hong Kong where she played against teams from Australia, Japan and China and also represented at the World Ice Hockey 5’s in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Soo has also played in Taiwan, Calgary, Vancouver, Denver and Seattle - where she currently resides.
So, how did Soo become a Pittsburgh Penguins fan, and what made her want to participate in the Mario Lemieux Fantasy Hockey Camp?
“Growing up in Calgary, I was a Flames fan. They’re now my second favorite team. I became a Pens fan as I started to follow some of the Canadian superstar players like Crosby and Fleury, who are both my favorite Pens players. I like the Pens too because of how the organization is managed and what they do in the community, much to do with the legacy of Lemieux,” she said. “I put the Camp on my life wishlist. Being a big Pens fan, I knew I couldn’t go wrong coming to Camp: to be able to play in the arena where my favorite team roams, to play with some great names in the history of Pens hockey and of course, I’ve always looked to Lemieux as a role model. He is truly an inspirational person.”
It was a long wait for Soo from the day she put her name on the Camp waiting list at the end of 2011, till she took the ice at the Camp last January.
“Having planned so far ahead was good as it gave me plenty of time to think, prepare, and know that this was something I really wanted. I had the Camp brochure sitting at work in my drawer. Every day I saw it. It was motivation. I later put up the Mario Lemieux Foundation logo on my desk where I could always see it. It gave me incentive to focus on my vision,” she said.
On August 31 of last year, Soo had ankle surgery and four days later, as she was laid up on the couch recovering, she received an email from the Mario Lemieux Foundation that she was off the waiting list and made it into the Camp. It gave her extra incentive to heal up fast.
January came fast, and Soo made her first trip to Pittsburgh for the Camp. She checked in and received her “goodie bag” of hockey equipment and Penguins apparel which included Penguins hockey socks, gloves, helmet, pant shell, hoodie, compression shirts, t-shirt, track jacket, winter hat, cap, Reebok shower sandals, various small Penguins bags, and a Mario Lemieux Fantasy Hockey Camp branded gear bag to hold everything. Many of the campers were chatting in the lobby after receiving their gear, but Soo, being one of only two women in the Camp, felt a little shy and decided not to join them. However, that all changed later on at the dinner and player signing at the Lexus Club at Consol Energy Center.
“The organizers, especially the women, made me feel welcome and immediately introduced me to the other female Camper & to Brianne McLaughlin, the 2010 Team USA goaltender, who was on hand to provide guidance at Camp,” she said.
Later on that night, Soo officially signed a player contract with Mario Lemieux.
“It just made everything so real…seeing Mario there in person, in front of me! I shook his hand, he introduced himself (like he needed to!). We sat down at a table and made small talk. He asked where I was from and said, ‘So you play hockey?’” she said.
After Soo signed the contract, she received two Penguins custom jerseys, one home and one away, with her name and number (88) on them. Her photo was taken in front of a Camp backdrop with Lemieux and herself holding one of the jerseys. Then the celebrity coaches were introduced and teams were announced. There were a total of 16 former NHL players at the Camp including Pierre Larouche, Bryan Trottier, Eddie Johnston, Randy Hillier, and Clark Gillies as coaches, and Lemieux, Paul Coffey, Gary Roberts, Tie Domi, Theo Fleury, Michel Goulet, Mark Recchi, Rick Tocchet, Jay Caufield, and Bill Guerin as players. Soo made it on Pierre Larouche’s team and her teammates included Gary Roberts, Tie Domi and Lemieux (who played with each team at least once).
On the first day of Camp, Soo experienced more of what it’s like to be an NHL player. Even sharing the lockerooms with NHL players was quite an experience for her.
“It was a real thrill stepping into our locker room for the first time, seeing all our gear laid out, personalized jerseys…WOW!” she said. “The locker room was always a place of entertainment: hearing the wisecracks from Roberts and Domi going at each other (they had been teammates in Toronto and you could tell they knew each other well). Roberts was telling us we hadn’t seen the most of it…imagine being with Domi everyday!”
Some of the games at the Camp were played at Consol Energy Center, while others were played outdoors on the Penguins Pond, across the river from downtown Pittsburgh. Soo found this to be the perfect setting to play hockey.
“Playing outdoors brought me back to childhood memories and skating outdoors. Definitely one of the positive, treasured memories of Camp. At one point, the Pond filled up with high school boys who had a game after us and it was a thrill playing in front of a larger audience,” she said.
When not on the ice, Soo and other Campers got to know some of the NHLers during the evening activities.
“In getting to know them, all the players were so down to earth, normal people. They were encouraged to hang out with us - we all stayed at the same hotel and had the same evening and off-ice agenda. This totally added to the overall Camp experience,” she said. “I got to know Theo Fleury well. I had a nice, long chat with him one night. It definitely was a thrill to meet him—I had watched him play as a kid, my Dad used to take us to meet him, get his autograph when he played with the Flames…and here I am chatting away with him. He’s been through a lot in life and is such an inspiration. He’s a very nice guy, approachable and we have a lot in common. It was a thrill to be on the ice with him too! I also found some of the older players very inspirational. For example, hearing Eddie Johnston talk about the old days and what it was like when they drafted Lemieux. ‘I knew he was something,’ he said.”
Soo participated in two practice sessions and five games as a right winger during the Camp. Her team went 2-3 in those games, and she had two goals and two assists. One of the assists was on a goal by Gary Roberts and one of her goals was assisted by Tie Domi.
“I was following behind Tie Domi as he was skating in with the puck. I was telling myself to get ready. He might leave it for me. And he did. Right at the door step in front of the goalie. I took a swing and it trickled in. Tie skated over and gave me a huge hug. I couldn’t breathe! I heard Gary Roberts had a similar experience once when Domi tried to lift him up,” she said. “I was honored when Eddie Johnston was standing at our bench’s exit to the locker room after one of my games where I scored a goal. He was waiting to tell me, jokingly, that he wanted to negotiate a trade for me to join his team, in exchange for Lemieux. He tried to work on Coach Larouche all night for the trade, without much success. One of the games afterwards, Johnston yelled from his team’s bench telling me to slow down out there. He’s such a nice man, a real legend and I was thrilled to meet him—to know that he’s won three Stanley Cups and has experienced some key moments in hockey history. “
Soo had a lot of great experiences during the Camp, but knowing that it supported a great cause was also important to her. She helps out charities through hockey too.
“I’m currently the chief organizer of the women's teams and one of the women’s team captains for the 2013 Hockey Challenge benefitting the Ronald McDonald House Charities of Western Washington and Alaska. Last year, we raised over $16,000 for the House. Though all the 15 years, our teams have raised a total of $4.2 million for the House. I’ve also done work for the NHL’s Hockey Fights Cancer and so participating in the Mario Lemieux Fantasy Hockey Camp and knowing it also supported a cause was a natural thing for me to do,” she said.
If you’re interested in trying to get into the Camp in the future, Soo says it’s a chance of a lifetime.
“The Camp was definitely a life experience—and life hasn’t been the same since. I’m still on cloud nine. I actually dreaded coming back to Seattle and moreover, back to my own league games. I really got spoiled in Pittsburgh with a trainer handling my gear, pre-game meals, transportation…and being centered by Lemieux and linemates with Roberts,“ she said.
Though she learned many things at Camp, one important aspect stood out the most.
“You don’t throw your jersey on the floor in the locker room at any time,” she said. “Show your team respect and the jersey as you would a flag. Never let it touch the ground. Be proud you’re part of the team.”
If you are interested in learning more about the Mario Lemieux Fantasy Hockey Camp, visit www.mariolemieux.org/events/mario-lemieux-fantasy-hockey-camp/.
To support Jackie Soo, who is playing in the Hockey Challenge benefiting the Ronald McDonald House Charities on Feb. 23rd at the ShoWare Center in Kent, WA, visit www.active.com/donate/hockeychallenge2013/jackiesoo.
Even though I haven't played EA NHL games in a while, I remember how much fun they were to play. The thought of creating myself as a female player actually never came to mind. Maybe it was because it was the normal thing back then (the last EA NHL game I played was 2005). Then I started reading about all the cool new features in NHL 2012 and found out that there will be an option to create a female player. How cool is that? I can finally make myself and play against my husband!
Tonight I found out why this option was added to the game. It all came down to the persistence of a 14-year old girl.
Check out the story here.
Proof that if you put your mind to something, you can do it. Thanks Lexi Peters.
Many people don’t understand my obsession with hockey, which has escalated since I started playing the sport. When I was thinking about it one day on my long drive home from work, I came to this conclusion.
I didn’t find hockey… hockey found me.
Let me explain.
I’ve been a sports fan since I could remember. Baseball was my favorite sport for most of my life. I grew up collecting baseball cards, following the Pirates religiously, and playing softball saying to myself, “I’m going to be the first woman in MLB someday!” Needless to say that didn’t happen, but one thing was always certain… when I was playing softball, I was always playing at the my best level possible because I love the sport. Some of my teammates didn’t take it as seriously as I did, probably because we were all just kids. But I had this big passion for playing… and doing it well. The last time I played softball, I was a senior in high school, and I was known as the girl who would slide head-first into bases, and the one who hit a grand slam when it was the only possible way we could win the game at that moment. I played left-center field, and if the ball was hit to right, I was backing up the right fielder by the time the ball got to her. Sure, it was just township softball. To me, though, every game meant something. Not to win or lose, but to prove to myself that I could be better then the game before. This is why I dove in the outfield, slid into bases head first, caught balls with my open hand in order to be able to whip it to second base… because it pushed myself to the limits, and I loved it. 12+ years of playing softball ended when I graduated high school, and I still miss it sometimes.
I also played basketball and volleyball in high school. Basketball didn’t last too long for me. Even though I was considered tall back then, I still couldn’t play very well, and decided on giving volleyball a shot instead. I’m glad I did. I loved playing in high school, and even though I wasn’t one of the best players, I still made the varsity team. One thing I did have was a good serve. Still do. I still love playing volleyball when I get the chance.
So, what does this all have to do with hockey? Well… playing sports ended when I graduated high school. Back then I was just starting to learn more about hockey because I had been dating Justin (my husband) for about a year at that point. Justin played hockey for most of his life, and he had season tickets for the Penguins with his mom since he was about 6 years old, I think. He took me to my first Pens game, and as we were watching it, he was explaining to me what everything meant. Icing, penalties, off-sides… the things I didn’t know about. My dad did this with me when I wanted to learn more about football, but didn’t understand anything. Neither one of my parents were into hockey, and I really didn’t know anyone into hockey until I met Justin, so I never had anyone to explain it to me. Once I understood hockey, it was all over. I couldn’t believe I had missed out on this great sport all this time! Justin and I went to many games while we were in college, and I was hooked.
Even though college was a great experience for me, and I made many friends, it was also a means to what would be a very long, and stressful 10 years for me. I took full course loads of classes, and even though I was asked to be on Point Park’s softball team, I declined because not only was I taking a lot of classes, but I was working 30 hours in retail as well. I just had no time.
I graduated from college in 2003, and had to stay working in retail to pay the bills. I started to forget about the fun things in life because working in retail is depressing… especially when it’s unexpected. I started to only care about making money, and when I was asked to manage a store, I accepted. Bad decision. My life revolved around my job, and I couldn’t get out of it. I couldn’t even think of doing anything else because no matter where I went, my job followed, whether it was a phone call, email, or something else. For 10 years, this is what my life was. I couldn’t even think about playing a sport. I was lucky Justin and I were able to get Pens season tickets in 2005 and I was actually able to make it to some games. Sometimes I think that kept me sane.
When I finally slapped myself in the face, so-to-speak, I told myself I was going to change my life around for the better. I dropped to part-time in retail, and went back to Point Park University to get my MBA. I graduated a year later, and was offered a position doing what I love. This position also game me a lot of free time, since it was primarily a 9-5 job. I was so happy I was able to turn my job situation around that I was looking for other ways to better myself. Then I remembered how great it was to play sports.
At this point, the only two sports I was really following were football and hockey. And I didn’t think I could handle football (and that’s saying a lot coming from me, if you know me). I then thought, “I wonder if there’s any women’s hockey teams in Pittsburgh?” … so I searched Google, and I found there was. At the time three women’s teams existed: Central Pittsburgh, the Pittsburgh Piranhas, and the Pittsburgh Puffins. Central was for women who had been playing for most of their lives, so I knew they were out for me, and the Piranhas also looked to be a higher level team. When I got to the Puffins website, however, I knew this would be the team for me. They had women from all different age groups and skill levels on the team. I wasn’t sure how to go about getting a spot on the team, so I wrote an email, and found out that there was a women’s learn to play hockey course at the RMU Island Sports Center. This was great! So, I took the class. I’m still in it now playing as a goalie.
Last year I was offered a spot on the practice squad for the Puffins. Even though I would’ve loved to be on the full-time squad, I realized I had only been playing hockey for about 6 months at that point, so I wasn’t too disappointed about it. I was just happy to meet new people, make more friends, be on the ice more, learn more about the sport, and have a lot of fun. I still have the same mentality as I did in high school. I put everything out there during every practice so I can get better. I don’t care what age or skill level I’m at, I’m always going to push myself to the limit because I want to be better then the last practice. It’s rough, but I feel better about myself after every practice knowing I gave it my all.
Going to practices and playing in Puffins games made me realize what I had been missing the past 10 years… playing a sport. It sounds cheesy, but playing a sport makes me happy. What kept me going in high school was knowing that the next sport was coming up… whether it was volleyball or softball, I was going to be playing something most of the year. After high school I went 10 years not playing any sport and they were the most depressing 10 years of my life.
Now that I’m playing hockey, I like studying hockey players and I’ve got into watching games other then just Penguins games. I love NHL Network because they play all kinds of hockey, and I love watching college hockey as well as women’s hockey now. One of my coaches introduced me to the Minnesota State High School Hockey playoff tournament, which is the biggest high school tournament in the USA. I was watching in awe at these players who were just in high school. It was amazing, and honestly, more exciting then watching an NHL game. A few of the games went into OT, and one game I just couldn’t leave work because I had to watch the end of this game. It was that exciting. Most of us wouldn’t believe how skilled these kids are…. and they were not playing for money. They were playing for pride… laying everything on the line.
“If I found my way to Minnesota…” – That line from a Dandy Warhols song kept going through my head as I was watching that high school tournament, and I never thought I would be saying this, but I really want to go to Minnesota for it next year. To me it feels like I almost need to go there.
If I never met Justin, I might not be writing this right now. He introduced me to hockey… what the sport is really about.
If I didn’t make it on the Puffins, I wouldn’t have met a lot of great people who are now great friends.
I’m not a big religious person, but I think everything happens for a reason. It may have taken 10 years for hockey to become a big part of my life, but I think it was brought into my life to make me happy, get me healthy again, and to bring new friends into my life.
“I didn’t find hockey… hockey found me.”
Deanna Reynolds, has a site called She Did What, Now? that profiles women over 40 who do something different...like learning to play hockey. She's looking for women hockey players who are age 40+ that would be willing to do a short interview with her to profile on her site. If you would like to share your story with her, please send in your story at her site here.
*As Deanna mentioned in the comment below, her contact form on her website was not working properly. If you sent in your story to her through the contact form, please resend it to her email address at Deanna@shedidwhatnow.com.
If you ever get frustrated with learning a particular hockey skill, think of this story!
Grizzell, 16, plays hockey with one hand and does it well
COLORADO SPRINGS — Luke Grizzell plays competitive hockey with no left hand. Why, the 16-year-old resident of Florissant wants to know, is this so astonishing to other people?
"It's not a big deal to me. I guess I'm pretty determined to do what I want and prove other people wrong," he said.
Stubborn might be the best word to describe Grizzell, who will be a junior in high school this fall. Most likely, that will be at Woodland Park, though if the school doesn't add a hockey team, as is being talked about, he may opt to transfer to a Colorado Springs school that has one. That's how serious he is about the game, one he didn't start playing until two years ago.
Read more here.
Pittsburgh Women's Hockey Resource Blog
Charlene Bidula, Sara Petyk, Cori James and Val Sweeney blog about local women's hockey news, tips, teams and anything else they find helpful to all the women hockey players in Pittsburgh!