An Interview with U.S. Women’s Hockey Player Caitlin Cahow


This Saturday, April 7, the 2012 International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) Women’s World Championship begins in Burlington, Vermont. The U.S. Women’s National Team will be trying to capture its fourth consecutive world championship. Two-time Olympian Caitlin Cahow kindly agreed to speak with about the upcoming World Championships, Team USA’s appearance on The Ellen DeGeneres Show during the Vancouver Olympics, and what type of atmosphere an out hockey player would find in the National Team locker room. Caitlin graduated from Harvard University in 2008 and is currently attending Boston College Law School. While she is sidelined with an injury for the World Championships, she will be in Burlington with her sponsor Easton Hockey and would be happy to talk to any fans who want to stop by. First of all, thanks for taking the time to talk with me, I know you must be busy with school. The last that thing in most people’s minds about the USA Hockey team is the Vancouver Olympics. Could you give me a brief overview, for those who don’t follow Team USA obsessively, of what’s been going on both for you and for the team since the Olympics?

Caitlin Cahow:
Absolutely. The Vancouver Olympic Games were a tremendous experience for all of us. We had a relatively young team comparatively to what we have had in the past so that’s always exciting. You have a lot of emotion, a lot of enthusiasm, and I think we really displayed that with some really fun and fast hockey on the ice. At the same time being young and youthful and having that energy can sometimes be a liability when you go up against really well prepared and seasoned teams like Team Canada was in Vancouver, and I think on that last day they were the better team. Their leadership and their experience really showed through and we didn’t come away with the result we had hoped for, but the best part about our team is that that energy hasn’t at all been snuffed out. We’ve brought it back with greater passion and renewed focus and maybe a better understanding of what it takes to really grow an Olympic game over a four-year training cycle. That’s really what we’re doing now. We’re two years out [from the Olympics in 2014]. We’re honing our skills and doing what we need to do on the ice and in the weight room but we’re also taking a step back to work on the intangibles, and the mental preparation that playing in the Olympics requires.

AE: You and your teammates are spread all over the place, how do you keep hockey going and keep in touch in these periods between major competitions?

One of the really cool things about international ice hockey for women, and I think it’s fairly unique to our sport, is that we are all spread out all the time. Our team is comprised of high school players through people who are well out of college. So our age range is, at any given tournament, something like from 17 or 18 to 31, 32, I think we’re getting close to 33 with Jenny Potter. So it’s quite the age range which makes us really unique. But also the diversity of our backgrounds is pretty remarkable. We’ve got players in high school, players in college, I’m in graduate school, I’m getting a law degree [at Boston College Law School], and then we have women who are working.

It’s sometimes difficult to stay on the same page when we’re so far apart but the great thing is that we get along really well and we stay in touch. Facebook always helps to keep track of what people are doing. The Lamoureauxs posted that they went to the Elton John concert the other night so I had to give them a hard time on their Facebook wall. [Laughs] Stuff like that just to keep us going. In order to compete and to stay ready for the world competitions we have to make sure that we’re competing with our own team.

I play for the Boston Blades in the Canadian Women’s Hockey League (CWHL). We’re the only American team in the league right now. I play on the Boston Blades with Kacey Bellamy, Gigi Marvin, Kelli Stack, Molly Schaus, and Erika Lawler. Molly Engstrom plays for a team in Canada, she plays for the Brampton Thunder. Julie Chu plays for the Montreal Stars and those are the “post-graduates. ”Of course you have college players who play for University of Wisconsin, University of Minnesota, and Harvard. We’re really all across the map. It’s really fun to see those people on the ice and to be able to compete with them. Any time I’m playing Brampton or Montreal I know that I’m going up against Julie or Molly I know I have to push myself and it’s the same for the college teams. Those players know when they see another member of the USA family playing on the opposing squad they know they are going to have a run for their money. I think that’s the best way that we can keep each other accountable and to push each other on and off the ice.

AE:That totally makes sense. It’s nice that there’s a league. It was probably in its early days 100 years ago when I played.

I think you’re selling yourself short. I remember you quite well from hockey camp. You probably don’t remember me.

AE: I do! I remember you as one of the nicest campers. My team was filled with … I had some nice campers, I also had a couple who weren’t and who were a little sassy with me. I remember you as one of the nicest campers around. [Laughs]

That’s nice you must have caught me on a good day. [Laughs] You were famous and I always loved goalies. I was always fascinated with goalies. It added to your credibility in my opinion.

AE: Thank you very much, most people think that we’re a crazy bunch and aren’t to be trusted.

[Laughs] You’ll have no argument from me there.

AE: [Laughing] Fair enough. There’s nothing a goalie loves more than a good defenseman.

Some more than others.

AE: Let’s take you back to the Olympics again. We really loved the stuff with your team on The Ellen DeGeneres Show.

[Laughs]. We loved that too!

AE: did a write-up about it and posted some of the video. Can you give me some insight as to how that all came about? Were you guys just goofing in the locker room and it just blossomed?

So, the way we got on The Ellen Show is kind of circuitous. Erika Lawler, she’s a fan favorite on our team, she’s short, and she’s fiery, and she’s an unbelievable forward. Her personality is just how she is on the ice. She’s tenacious, she’s fun, and one of the most memorable things about Erika Lawler is that she’s a phenomenal dancer. So, Ellen’s a phenomenal dancer obviously, and when we’re on the Olympic tour we watch a lot of TV, probably more than is recommended. Ellen is always something that’s on. Everyone on the team loves Ellen because I’m pretty sure there’s no one out there that doesn’t like Ellen. So, we watch a lot of Ellen and we talk about it and how funny it would be to go on the show and how Erika should absolutely be selected to dance.

So Gigi Marvin, who plays on the Boston Blades with me and actually is one of my roommates, she started corresponding with someone [at The Ellen Show]. She told them about who we were and how much we loved Ellen and she started carrying around, you’ve seen it before probably, people carry around pictures of Ellen and take pictures with her in various places?

AE: Sure, yeah.

Well we did that on the Olympic tour and in the Olympic Village. She kept sending in pictures [to the show]. Gigi worried that The Ellen Show might be calling and handed out my cell phone number [because I had an international cell phone and she didn’t] in one of her letters to one of the managers of the show. Lo and behold, I’m sitting in the Olympic Village and I get a phone call from this blocked number one day and I pick it up and it’s one of the managers of The Ellen Show and I didn’t believe it at all. I thought one of my teammates was punking me. But it turned out that that’s who this was.

So I ran and found Gigi down the hallway and we were falling over giggling with excitement. I passed [the phone] over to Gigi. They asked her a bunch of questions, they asked me a bunch of questions and we got Erika on the line and there it was. We filmed live from Vancouver from the top of this random building. It was a great experience.

[Ellen] made this deal that if we won a gold medal we could come on the show. But, of course, it didn’t work out that way. We tried, but it didn’t work out. But [Ellen] was kindhearted enough to extend the offer even though we didn’t win a gold medal. So she flew us all in to go on the show. I have to be honest, any preconceptions you have about Ellen, she absolutely lives up to them in the best possible way. We all went in not knowing what to expect, and she was just the consummate hostess. Everything from having our favorite snacks in the green room, to hanging out with us backstage, she played ping pong with us, we even danced with her backstage. She was just awesome. She spent a ton of time with us and was so welcoming and she was great on the show. It made us all more effective ambassadors for our sport. It was the best experience of my spring by far.

AE: That’s great. I loved watching it and I loved watching the Olympics. My older daughter, at the time was basically not allowed to watch television but there was an exception for the Olympics. It’s a pleasure to watch you guys play. You have been fantastic ambassadors for sports in general and certainly for getting little girls, and even grown-ups like us very excited about sports and women’s sports in particular.

It’s easy for us because we’re fans. I grew up thinking I was going to be in the NHL. I was convinced that I was going to be the first woman in the NHL and it didn’t pan out. [Laughs] My fall back wasn’t that bad, I get to hang out with twenty other like-minded women who love the game, are fans of the game, and are passionate about it and who love to share that passion. I have the best job around. I couldn’t want anything more.

AE: It comes through that you and your teammates love what you do so much and it certainly stokes interest everywhere and particularly with little kids. Angela Ruggiero, who was one of the older players on the team, retired this year. Could you introduce us to some of the younger players who we might not be as familiar with but that we should be looking out for at the World Championships?

CC: We’ve got so many great players. Kendall Coyne is a player people should know more and more because she’s been in the National Team program since she was about 15 or 16. She’s a really great player, she just finished her first season at Northeastern and she is dynamite to watch. She’s the fastest skater on the ice so that’s definitely something to look forward to. She’s a great person, on and off the ice, and so fun to watch.

As far as defense, obviously my favorite position, I really like Michelle Picard as a player. She’s a young, lefty defenseman. She’s not very big, kind of like me. I really carry a lot of stock in the not so big defensemen because we do make a difference. She’s just so solid and so smooth out there. She plays her position impeccably and has so much ice wisdom for someone who is just coming off of her freshman season at Harvard. She is just going to keep getting better and she’s going to be scary good. For young players out there if you want to know how to play defense watch Michelle Picard and watch how she sees the ice because she’s great at it. She’s definitely an up and comer.

AE:We’re lucky enough to have the World Championships in the United States this year. What should fans that are able to come out to the rink be looking for and what should they look forward to from the World Championships?

The [World Championships] are really exciting because there are more teams involved. More teams make the cut for World’s than they do for the Olympics [Eight countries will be represented in Burlington: USA, Canada, Finland, Sweden, Russia, Switzerland, Slovakia, and Germany]. So you get to see players from all over the world. We’re all in the same spot. At the Olympics we’re kind of isolated in our different houses and we intermingle in the cafeteria and the eating areas and sometimes in the rink but we’re a lot more separated than we are for World Championships. [At World’s] you’re all playing in the same area, you’re all staying in the same area, often in the same hotel, and eating in the same restaurants. There’s a lot more interplay between players which, when we’re trying to grow the sport and trying to bring the parity up in women’s hockey, it’s a really great experience for players.

It’s also way more accessible than the Olympics for fans because you’ll see us; we’ll be around town, we’ll be at the rink. All of the players want fans to enjoy our game so there’s no problem with walking up to a player and asking for an autograph or asking a question. Players want to grow the game and this is a really great outlet for us to be able to do that. These are the games you want to watch if you’re a women’s hockey fan and to have it on home soil is a huge treat for hockey fans.

AE: To be in a place like Burlington, Vermont, that’s not a huge city will contribute to players being around because it’s not so big for players to get lost in the crowd.

Burlington has more hockey history that most people realize. It was the site of the first nationally televised women’s hockey game between the US and China leading up to Nagano [the Nagano Olympics were held in 1998]. It has huge hockey history. It’s something that I think we, who are more involved in the sport at the higher levels recognize, understand, and revere in many ways. So, it’s a special environment for us and I think it will be a really special environment for the fans.

AE: That’s great and something to look forward to this weekend and next. Switching gears a little bit. When I played hockey in college, my team was incredibly welcoming and supportive of me and the other players on the team who were out. Can you talk a little bit about what kind of atmosphere an out athlete would find in the National Team locker room?

As a team sport athlete, and as an athlete who has competed at the absolute highest level that I can attain in sports and in my sport in particular, I’ve been very fortunate that being on the US National Team or on the US Olympic Team, when you walk into that room you’re there because you’re one of the best in the world and you expect every other person in the locker room to be there for the same reason. So the only questions that are ever asked in our locker room is how committed can you be to this team and how dedicated, disciplined, and determined can you be at fulfilling your potential. I think that’s a real gift that I’ve received as an athlete because there have never been questions about anything other than how much of yourself can you give to this team. I have not run into any of these issues [with homophobia] but I am aware of them. I’m aware that my experience may not be universal [to women’s sports in general] and I am sensitive to that.

I think you join a team because you want to be successful at whatever the team goal is. You can measure success in two column; the wins and losses and the having fun. I feel like your odds of being successful in both those columns are tremendously decreased if the team that you are involved in fosters notions of hatred, bigotry, [and] intolerance versus if your team is the kind of team that asks for respect and love and acceptance from its players.

I think women’s hockey is a really family-oriented game. I say that because in my experience of being on the National Team, the National Team especially, we have Jenny Potter who has two kids and they are always around the locker room, they’re always around the team and we foster that kind of caring and that understanding that our lives are all very different. I am not [married] and I do not have two children, nor does anyone else on the team right now. But we all have our own personal lives that we recognize fulfill us and make us better people, better players, and better teammates. In our locker room there’s tremendous respect for however you live your life because we know that each of our teammates is doing the best she can to be happy, to be motivated, to be fulfilled, and to bring all of those best qualities into the locker room and onto the ice every day. It’s really not a question about how you live your life, it’s more are you happy in how you live your life and can you bring that to us because we embrace happy, contented people on our team. It’s important that the family atmosphere, that welcoming atmosphere is in our locker room.

AE: Any last thoughts?

I’m a hockey fan so I love the opportunity to see other players play that I really admire. The World Championships for me is an opportunity to watch people who I really admire and respect on the ice. I hope that it translates to everyone who comes and watches the games because it really is thrilling, it’s hockey at its purest, it’s hockey at its best. I really believe that the women’s hockey game is the purest form of hockey out there. As a fan of the game, I’m excited to share that experience with everyone who comes to watch in Burlington.

AE: Thank you again for taking the time out from everything. Good luck to you and to Team USA.

You’re welcome. Thank you for asking me to do this.

The World Championships open in Burlington, Vermont on April 7 and the Gold Medal game will conclude the tournament on April 14.