A full transcription of the podcast can be found below.
Susie Yuen, a pioneer in women’s hockey, joins Sami Jo Small to talk about from her experience with the Canadian national team, her time with the University of Manitoba Bisons and her time spent coaching in China.
Yuen shares her experience about growing up as a first-generation Canadian, the support of her friends and family and how sport can build communities.
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Music/Man’s Voice: Welcome to Sami Jo’s Podcast. The show that is all about gaining insights from top performers as they share what made their teams successful and translate those ideas into your everyday lives and businesses.
Here is your host, 3 time Olympian, professional speaker, author and entrepreneur ...Sami Jo Small.
Sami Jo’s Introduction of Guest
Welcome to episode #4 of Sami Jo’s podcast where I’m excited to introduce to a member of Canada’s first World Championship team, Susie Yuen.
An accomplished athlete, she’s a World Champion, and a member of Manitoba’s Hockey Hall of Fame despite not having the opportunity to play organised hockey until she was 18 years of age.
On the ice, at only 4 foot 11 she was tenacious and gritty, but off the ice she is genuine, caring and an inspiring individual
We reflect on the lessons she learned at the first World Women’s Championship and what it was like playing alongside some incredible teammates.
We chat about the role that mentorship played in her life and how it influenced her to want to help others as well as her experience coaching in China nearly thirty years ago.
We talk about the support of her family, and how being the daughter of immigrants shaped her perspectives. and how sport can build community.
I’ve known Susie nearly my entire life and I’ve been influenced by her in so many positive ways and can’t wait for you to be inspired as well. I hope you enjoy my interview with Susie Yuen.
Sami Jo: Firstly, I'd like to acknowledge the traditional indigenous owners of country throughout Canada and pay my respect to them, their culture and their elders past, present and future.
Sami Jo and Guest on Camera
Sami Jo: All right, Susie, you've been such a role model but more importantly, really a mentor to me. And we met, I want to say 30 years ago. Is that about right? I think I was only about 15.
Susie: Yes you were 15 , I remember that!
Sami Jo: But that was 30 years ago and you really are like family to me. So I can't thank you enough for coming on my show and for all that you have done for me over the years. Just thank you and welcome to the Sami Jo podcast.
Susie: Thank you so much. And Sami, honestly, you're really too kind. I think when you came into my life, you're an inspiration for me because, you know, you're the only female that I knew that was playing boys hockey, and you know, holding your own…
Sami Jo: Let's be honest, did you become friends with me because I was a goalie and you could shoot on me?
Susie: Ah, that was a really fun part of it. But I think we became friends because you know, I don't know if you recall we made it to Western Canadians.
Sami Jo: Well, I think we first met you came and spoke to my Canada games team, and in ‘91. And you'd just come back from the World Championship. So we saw you as this like icon, which you had played for Team Canada that was so inspirational to us and then I think after that because we shared the same coach Darren Juby. I think that's how I got to come and play with you guys. And then got to know you more, is that sort of how it happened?
Susie: I’m thinking Yes, I met you the first time that I did meet you was at the Canada games.
Sami Jo: But I was a defenseman.
Susie: Yes, you're playing out like you're playing. You weren't in net where you should be which is interesting, because I was texting with Darren yesterday and stuff. And he had mentioned like, Oh, you know…
Sami Jo: That he's still bitter and mad?
Susie: Well, that you should have been in goal and that you guys could have medaled.
Sami Jo: Well, I think we could have medaled anyways, we actually had a really good goalie. Amanda, something Amanda. And she was really great and played amazing. So I don't, I think he puts more emphasis on me being in that. But I know that he was not happy with me for making that choice and it was maybe not the smartest choice for me to have made. Because I didn't really realize how big Canada games was. But it was just a fun new challenge for me. And I didn't take it as seriously as I think I should have. So he's probably right. I probably would have been in net but to no fault of Amanda, she played incredible. So he I think he's still mad that we came in. I think we came in fifth, which is pretty good for a Manitoba team. But he thinks we should have medaled.
Susie: Yeah and yeah, and I, I agreed with him. I could see his tone in this text.
Sami Jo: If nothing else came out of those Canada games. I got to meet you. And we got to play some big tournaments together. But also I got to learn from you and train with you and I can remember the first time you took me up to University Manitoba to lift weights. That was huge for me because I've never seen female athletes train like that.
Susie: Well, I don't know. It was just part of kind of what we were doing. I don't think there was a lot of organization at that time. When we're playing or when I was playing hockey, like when I came to the University and there was a club team, you know, it was just, you know, one of my teammates from ringette. You know, we're sitting in psych class and she sees a poster for a trial for the Bisons, the Lady Bisons at that time. Right. So I mean, we go and we try but there really wasn't an expectation. And, you know, for I think for, for myself especially, was a little bit of an eye opener, because we show up and, you know, we're just to kind of, you know, we've got our sweatpants on and you know, we've got our garbage mitts with our hockey stick and our helmet and you know, elbow pads.
Sami Jo: You're the athletic girls.
Susie: Yeah and then you know, you're standing there and before we go on the ice, and I remember I remember watching these girls skate around the ice in full gear to me was like, you know, they're all you know, they're all dressed in their armour and skating around and here we are kind of, well, for myself, I felt kind of raggedy.
Sami Jo: So you had never played with hockey equipment prior to that.
Sami Jo: That was your first time was with the Lady Bisons. Trying out?
Susie: Once after, well, even that tryout they didn't even have the proper equipment. I don't think Judy has the proper equipment. Like we said, we were in our stretchy ringette and the other shinpads on no hockey pads and elbow pads. And, you know, I think I was wearing my brothers, you know, shoulder pads maybe? and garbage mitts. It's like and a hockey stick, right and skates and we were like, okay, let's lets go. And, you know, I guess it was exciting. But it was a little it was a little intimidating to be honest because it was something new. And it just, you know, I think just the equipment wise, we already didn’t kind of fit in, right? We kind of stood out like, you know, oddballs, and whatnot but fortunately, there was a guy his name was Mack Russo and he was the coach and then, you know, he came up and he talked to me asked me what my name was he goes Oh, you got a brother Howie? I go yeah, he goes. Oh, I coached your brother Howie. So it was kind of a small world.
Sami Jo: So that must have made you feel more comfortable.
Susie: It did but I mean, my brother was, you know, growing up, like I watched my brother play hockey, and I was just amazed at what he could do with a puck on the ice and how he played and his skill level his caliber, right, like, like, I'm like, I just, you know, I just loved to watch him play when I could, when I could get a ride to the rink to watch him play.
Sami Jo: That reminds me of a story of my brother going down to University of California, Berkeley, and at the school they had played so he went to Berkeley two years after I went to Stanford, and they found out that Sami Jo Small’s brother was coming to Berkeley and was going to play on the hockey team. And he being a swimmer, I think he quit hockey when he was like, 10, they had these huge expectations. So like Sami Jo Small’s brother's coming, you must be like Pro. Anyways, he ended up being on the fourth line and playing but we did play against each other but I think it was funny because he felt the same way. And it was just reverse that many generations or that many years later.
How did you go from there, from sort of that first tryout, to making the very first Women's World Championship team in 1990, because that must have been just a huge learning curve for you.
Susie: It was it was a huge learning curve. But you know what I grew up with two brothers. And we played street hockey, my brother Ed would used to, like, you know, we have the one man on the street. So we were kind of, you know, he'd organized the games and playing hockey. So I think, you know, my passion for hockey began then and then…
Sami Jo: And they let you play like they were always inclusive.
Susie: Well, generally speaking, I think they didn't have a choice. I don't think like, you know, if I came in, like, they didn't let me play, I probably, you know, I'd be like, go in the house in tears or something and my grandmother would, you know, scold them but it didn't really happen. Actually they're very inclusive, cause my brother did organize other games and stuff. But you know, I know it's a typical story, but it was like, I always had to be in net first. I would start in net.
Sami Jo: My brother did the same thing to me.
Susie: And I just accepted it. It's not like I disliked it or didn't like it. It was just part of the way it was, you know, it was, but it was interesting because like, you know, in the winter, you know, you're using a tennis ball and when it's frozen and you get hit with it, it really stings.
Sami Jo: Yeah, this was before really, goalies really wore equipment playing street hockey, right?
Susie: Like you just had your frozen jeans on.
Sami Jo: My mom made me actually out of her old corduroy pants out of these yellow corduroy pants. She made me goalie pads that she put foam in the front of so I thought I was this like warrior because I had these corduroy, you just like slid your leg right into it. I felt like a real goalie. But that's all I was wearing. And the puck was like a frozen projectile because it was like -40 in Winnipeg. Right? So yeah, similar to you. It hurts. But you were smart enough to get out of the net?
Susie: Well, only because I started crying. That seemed to work well, no, but I mean, it was actually out of pain, right?
Sami Jo: Because you were really a good athlete and a good hockey player by the time you got to U of M like you would play during it. You were clearly probably a very good skater. How did you go from there to learning the game and then even, so what year was that? And then making the national team.
Susie: I started playing hockey in ’84 that was first year university.
Sami Jo: And then you made it to the National Team in 1990. Yeah, what was the trajectory there? What was that six years like?
Susie: Um, you know what, I was just trying to learn the game. Right? I mean, I had played other sports growing up, which were definitely like I say, ringette it was very beneficial for skating but I played basketball in high school, right? So just kind of learning how to make plays behind the seams, people coming through the seams. I think those kind of concepts carried over to hockey for me, like when I was learning the game, I mean, learning to control the puck and handling it but you know what, I just, I just I think I just became like, really a student of the game because I just I would go and practice all the time whenever I had free time and there was free ice at Max Bell, I would go skate and, you know, I'd bring whoever you know, or invite anybody who was willing to come or I would go and play like pickup hockey in the afternoon, and, you know, whoever was there, and it became kind of like, you know, some regular guys, you know, and we would just play shinny. Right. And plus, I watched, I watched a lot of hockey back then, much more than I do have time now but, you know, I knew a lot of the players, I watched what they did, I wanted to, you know, kind of mimic some of the things that they did or when I would see them make a move or make a pass and like, I would kind of pick that up, because, you know, like, visually, right, right.
Sami Jo: You had to see it?
Susie: For me, I would say, I'm probably a more visual learner.
Sami Jo: I could imagine you to on the ice, just having trained with you that you would see it probably on Hockey Night in Canada or somewhere, and then you probably go do it 1000 times in a row on the ice, right?
Susie: Yes. Yeah. And practice it and practice it. You know, I don't, I don't think and I'm not really sure how I made the National team to be honest, because I'm not the most skilled player.
Sami Jo: Well, I think you sell yourself short. At the time, I would say you're probably one of the most skilled players that I had ever seen within the game, even, you know, playing at the National Championships with you. Your skill with the puck, to me never showed that you came from a ringette background. And a lot of players will be good skaters, they'll be good at protecting the puck, but they won't have the skills stick handling that that's not easy to come by but I think that that came for you because you practice so much that you really, you just you played with the puck a lot you were able to get probably a lot of free ice, like free time on the ice to be able to do that. And probably standing in line at drills and doing those kinds of things is probably what made you so skilled. So don't sell yourself short. I think your skills with the puck were incredible.
Susie: Well, thank you again, you're being too kind, when I compare myself to others, but I think…
Sami Jo: You had an already amazing coach at U. of M. right?
Susie: Yeah, I had some really, along the way. I had some really great coaches like that, that taught me different skills and, you know, I mean, Mack Russo so forgiving me my first opportunity. You know, and in giving me a chance to kind of work my way up. I mean, there was Cliff Bersh. He was like a psychology prof and you know, he taught me a lot too, not only about the game even though he was a big Habs fan.
Sami Jo: It’s okay, I'm married to Habs fan.
Susie: But so, um, you know, and of course, like Brant Haywood and Darren Juby, those guys had a big, you know, huge influence on me. Especially Brant, you know, he had a kid played Semi Pro hockey, you know, he worked for CBC sports. He was, you know, just so knowledgeable but I think the thing is, like, you know, he brought people together. You know, it wasn't maybe always the most skilled teams like I mean, the Bisons, I think we went to Nationals maybe maybe once or twice as a team. We weren't always the most skilled team, but we had a lot of fun. And, you know, we were able to overcome a lot of things like, you know, we weren't a stacked team, like some of the other teams because you know, everybody, everybody has, you know, we're all students. We're all working part time. We're playing to pay. We're paying to play hockey at that time.
Sami Jo: And you're playing in a club system, right. So you're not playing against other university kids. You're playing against other senior women's teams, right?
Susie: Yes, yes. Correct. And there were, you know, those girls that are on these club teams have been together for a long time, they were well established. Like when I came to the Bisons, I'm not even sure exactly how long the club program was there but it was kind of just a mishmash of everybody, you know, whoever wanted to play and, you know, I guess, you know, try out and there wasn't always I don't think there was always cuts, because, you know, a lot of people so it was kind of it. I mean, as the years went on, it became more competitive and people were being drawn to our program.
Sami Jo: What year did it become a U. Sport or CIAU Sport?
Susie: I'm not even sure because I wasn't.
Sami Jo: How many years did you play at U. of M. because there wasn't eligibility? It was a club team.
Susie: Yeah, I was there from ‘84 to ‘97.
Sami Jo: Okay. So for a long time, a long time, but who are some of the other players that really, you know, you said you guys had a lot of fun. Who are some of the other players that really made it not only fun, but a competitive environment because it seemed like you guys had fun, but that you had this love for the game that you just you guys wanted to be playing all the time.
Susie: Yeah, but you know, it was a transition, I would have been there for what was it? Like? You know, you know, over 10 years and different girls came through the system, but I mean, as far as like, some of the girls like were very powerhouse ringette girls, when I got there was Tracy Casper came high and those were very, you know, known athletes in the ringette, you know, played hockey and, and, you know, as they kind of moved on in their education and on to their careers and stuff because when I came I was, you know, I was working and they were already veterans and moved on. And it just became a different group of kids. Right, it was still a lot of ringette kids coming through girls coming through as being recruits and stuff. You know but with Brant, it was just like, you know, I mean, it was just, it's just, yeah, I don't know, they're just local girls that we played with a lot of them came from ringette and Bonnie Bytell, the Sixers and stuff, but I think the most fun I had was, you know, I think you're going to be interviewing Roberta Bartolo next week. But you know, Bart was in, you know, Bart, I met Bart because she was in residence lived in residence, and, you know, came out and tried out. But you know, we became really good friends, like best friends and just hung out. And it was just a lot of good times. And she was one of the ones that would come out, like, you know, I'd say, hey, there's open ice, you want to come she'd come meet me. And, you know, we just play around. And it was just really the love of the game. And just being out on the ice, you know, it's so free. It's actually like, you know, it's when Brant passed away. He was away. I think he was doing, I just got back home from the National Team and he had passed away. I saw him once, actually and then he passed away. He was in Calgary covering the NHL playoffs there and it's interesting, as soon as we heard the news, like, I went to the rink, and I was like everybody showed up at the rink, like on the ice, it wasn’t in a change room, like everybody went to the ice surface. We're all sitting on the bench, just talking kinda like taking in things, but you know what, that's, that's kind of where home was. That's what kind of united us, that's where our memories are. The friendships that, you know, we develop the lessons that we learned all took place there, you know, and it was a different time. Like, it was really a different time and it was a lot of fun. You know, girls, we you know, we loved hockey, we played we partied, studied.
Sami Jo: You enjoyed it, which is, I mean, really the mark of a great team. I mean, those are always the teams that I've had the most fun are not necessarily the ones that have gone on to win the big championships but the friendships that you make along the way, right.
So let's transition from there, into the first worlds for women that happened in Ottawa in 1990. So you made the team as the lone Manitoban on the team, coming from University of Manitoba Bisons, where you said it was kind of a mishmash of players. So you go to tryouts. And now suddenly, it's real and these are some elite athletes. What was it like going to your first tryouts and what was it like when you first made the team and heard that news?
Susie: Going to my first tryout, I was just like ecstatic. I was excited. I was just I was feeling very fortunate to even be there. Really no concept of what was actually really happening. Just very naive in the sense that I just get to go on the ice and skate with like Vicky Sunohara and France St-Louis like, I get to be on the same. So, and I get to see them, like, a close in, like, you know, live. So you know, and Angela James, right. So it was that in a sense was just, you know, I already was…
Sami Jo: That was already a huge accomplishment
Susie: That was already a huge accomplishments and be there to skate with them. And, you know, I just I just worked hard and tried to, you know, have fun. I remember going in the morning, we had our interviews in the morning, and you we're sitting in the hallways and stuff like that. And then I went in, and Dave McMaster was standing there in a suit and I can't even remember. Was there someone else there, but and, you know, I just looked at him and it's early right. And then all of a sudden he puts his hand out at me. He says, Welcome. Welcome to the National Women's Hockey Team. And I just looked at him and I said, are you serious? And he probably thought I was like so foolish but I had no indication really right? I had no indication of, you know, or no expectation or, or even awareness that I even had a chance of making the National Team. I was just happy to be there and then he said to me, You know, I wouldn't kid you about that. And I shook his hand, actually hugged him at that point. Instead of shaking his hand, I just like hugged him, and thank them, and I walked out. And I was like, it was a little bit of shock to a certain degree, but I don't think it really sunk in like even it was, it was a different time in the sense that I think they only named 14 players.
Sami Jo: How come?
Susie: If I recall.
Sami Jo: Were they waiting for others?
Susie: I'm not really sure it was just, I'm not really sure they I, if I recall correctly, if they hadn't selected the whole team, the players?
Sami Jo: Yeah, maybe they wanted to ensure that they were getting the next right players. They wanted to see players more maybe.
Susie: Yeah, I guess so. But I mean, that was the National Camp so I guess they hadn't finalized their decisions. Maybe there were some decisions that hadn't been finalized, I guess. And, you know, I'm not really sure what went into.
Sami Jo: The next decisions.
Susie: Yeah, the next decisions or the process or what? What aspects they were considering in those decisions. So I remember being on the bus. I remember coming home, right. And really, like, not really thinking much of it. Like it hadn't, you’re in shock, but it hadn't really been, you know, hadn't sunk in and then, you know, I went and I saw my team, and they're all ecstatic. Like, when they came, you know, and stuff like that. And my parents..
Sami Jo: Would that have been about February. And then Worlds would have been April. That's kind of how it was when we were going through it.
Susie: It's such a long time ago.
Sami Jo: I know, what was your, what was your parents reactions?
Susie: I think they're like, just Oh, okay. I don't think either, right. Right. Okay, that's good. Like, they were happy. What? I don't think you know, it. We didn't really, I don't think I really realized till actually, probably till I went back and I was there.
Sami Jo: Yeah and competing in Ottawa.
Susie: Yeah. And when I mean, I came home, you know, you're getting a call from, you know, a media and they want to interview you, and kind of, you know, ask you questions about your experience and those sorts of things, but I don't think it really actually sunk in. And I think like I say, like, I wasn't in that world. Like, that wasn't my world, right? Like, like, you know, going to camp and being able to skate with, you know, these idols of mine, right, that I'd heard of, but I've never really even really seen play, just heard the names of just like, wow, right?
Sami Jo: Yeah it’d be different. If you grew up in Ontario, and you were playing in leagues against these girls, that would be a much different experience, because you're right, that would have been your world. But this, you were so far removed. I mean, there you are hanging out playing shinny with your buddies, and then all of a sudden, you're on the National Team.
Susie: I really wasn't, you know, it really wasn't on the radar, right? As much as I think I thinking like, Oh, you know, I mean, I was an adult woman at that time, right. And I was an adult woman. And I mean, realistically, like, the only role models is like, Oh, yeah, the NHL, the Stanley Cup, wanting to be at that level, maybe, or, you know, making it to a National, you know, Women's Championship would be, you know, the pinnacle of our sport, right but even then, it was just, it was a reach for us because we hadn't experienced that there wasn't in our bubble, we just right.
Sami Jo: It wasn't part of what you even dreamt about because it wasn't real until that moment. So then you go to Ottawa for the World Championships. And suddenly, there's this huge wave of momentum that happens as the championships are going on and the final game is packed and you're one of the top goal scorers in the entire championship. So did that sort of give you the confidence? You're playing on some with some really big players at the time too, did it give you the confidence to know that, you know, Canada was suddenly rallying around this women's team and you deserve to be there. Did you ever feel that when you're there.
Susie: That I deserved that either.
Sami Jo: That you should be there that you had the skills to be there.
Susie: I don't know if they actually really thought that like if I was to reflect back I don't know if I'm being hard on myself or not like I really don't know how I got there. I don't honestly, like honestly right I'm, I'm sharing this with you wholeheartedly and honestly, I don't know because I was not that was not my world. I didn't. I knew very little about it. Very naive. Very fortunate and blessed to I have been, you know, selected and given that opportunity. But you know, I was playing also with Vicky Sunohara or Laura Schuler, right and they’re are few amazing athletes and human beings. Right. So, I mean, they lifted me up, you know, I mean, they took my game to another level, and they were very kind and encouraging. You know, they were the first two girls, from my understanding that were, that went down and played, you know, US college hockey, and on a scholarship. So they were, you know, in my mind just, right.
Sami Jo: These huge stars to you. You could play alongside. Yeah.
Susie: And they were they were kind, right. They were encouraging teammates. I mean, you know, we had our struggles to right? But we were able to kind of get through that. And I think we were we were known as the “kiddie line”, because we were the youngest, I think line out of the crew there. Was a lot of fun.
Sami Jo: Having played with both Vicky and Schuler, Laura. You know, Vicky just makes everything around her fun. I feel like she just likes to have a great time, right. And whether she is like naming the linemates or she's making up nicknames, or, she, to me was probably one of my favorite teammates I've ever had and then Schuler's just so intense. I mean, Schuler is just, I always had this, you know, she went on to coach the National Team, but she always said to me, Sami, I'd rather hit it off the glass really hard so everybody can hear how hard I shoot, than hit the goalie and that to me is just so synonymous with Schuler that it's just like, go go go hard, hard, hard all the time. So I could imagine her like fishing out the puck, digging in the corners, getting it to you guys and you guys making the plays?
Susie: Yeah, definitely. And it you know, it was a lot of fun, because it was very high energy line.
Sami Jo: Yeah, I can imagine with the 3 of you guys.
Susie: We had a lot of intensity and up go very upbeat, very positive. Like I say, very encouraging, you know, because, you know, they had probably competed or had more experience competing in those types of events or situations than I did.
Sami Jo: And what was it like, actually, at the World Championships to compete in front of that many people? You know, what was it like to be part of that very first team?
Susie: I think at the time, you're just living in the moment. So you're not even realizing you know, my roommate was Kim Ratushny. Very grounded. You know, really another really sweet human being.
Sami Jo: I can remember you taking me to watch Kim's brother play on his way to the Olympics. I think in Albertville. We went to watch him play at the Winnipeg Stadium. Yeah, and I knew that you guys had become really close. And we're really great friends, but it seemed like everybody that you pass through becomes really great friends with you, but her particularly you really talked highly about her.
Susie: Yeah, you know, she's, she's just really kind. You know, I remember her. We had some time off. And you know, she was from Ottawa, and she took me, you know, your home and I met her parents and her brothers, and it was just, you know, they made me feel she made me feel really welcome and comfortable. And it was like, you know, we were just, we're just, we used to became good friends, you know, and when you talk about that game that was actually like, you know, her boyfriend at the time, which is now her husband, Kent Manderville was also on that team.
Sami Jo: Oh, yes. And we made a sign with Kent Manderville.
Susie: Ya we made a sign and with their pictures taken with them. And yeah, yeah, the thing was, like, you know, I'm sitting at home and the phone rings, right and it's Kent and they're coming to Winnipeg, I was talking to Kim. Like, if you can make it I've got two tickets for you. Right to come watch us play.
Sami Jo: And I remember making that it was huge sign.
Susie: Yeah, it was a huge banner, wasn’t a poster. It was a banner we had to roll it out. Like, that's how long it was. You know? And yeah, so it was like, you know, and I think that's so important, like, in life, right. Like, and I think, you know, Brant really emphasized that to me, as well, like, you know, you know, being on a team for what was 13 years or whatever it was, you know, people come and go when they come in your lives and you know, it's really the ones that you're going to, you know, develop lifelong friendships, you know, like, kind of joke around. Like, I see Jen, I see Brant’s daughter, Jen Haywood and it’s like eerie. And, you know, it's like a lifer, right, we're not going to be lifers with everybody but I think like, that's what makes it so memorable. Right? That's when you sit down and you talk about things, and you reminisce about the memories or the funny things that happened or the difficult things that you're able to overcome and those challenges, right, because it all makes you stronger and better. You know, human being and in life and in work and in business, right. So it's really about relationships.
Sami Jo: Did they within that first National Team, did they provide the constructs for that those relationships to happen, like who were you, who was the captain at the time?
Susie: Was it Sue Scherer?
Susie: So I know Cassie Campbell talks very highly about Sue. Did she create sort of that ability for you guys to get to know each other. Did the coaches do some team building activities with you guys? Or was it just simply you're going through this together for the first time, this is exciting.
Susie: I think like, I can't remember exactly the timeline. But it was a very short period of time. I think. At that time, it was like we were brought together maybe five days.
Sami Jo: Oh, wow. Before the championships happened
Susie: Before the tournament started. Yeah. Right. And then in between there, right, there was maybe an exhibition game. So there really wasn't a lot of time to really, you know, get to know each other more on a personal level, right? It’s like, I mean, that process is just kind of happening throughout. Throughout the day
Sami Jo: You're getting to know your line mates, because you're playing with them, you're going with them, you're sitting beside them on the bench, perhaps
Susie: Or you're on the bus or at the breakfast table, you know, those sorts of things, sounding Oh, waiting for the bus, those sorts of things. So there really wasn't, I don't think the time.
Sami Jo: Right. Sometimes team happen, the team is built is in those moments, right? In the moments where you get to hang out with each other.
Susie: But I also think because like, you know, coming from Manitoba, and only being the Manitoba representative, like there was, you know, where female hockey was more developed. There was pockets, more pockets of people from different regions like that knew each other and kind of played either with each other already or against each other. Just like, you know, Vicki and Laura grew up playing right, I think it was in Scarborough and then they went on to play at college. So they were very familiar with not only like playing style, but each other's personalities and quirks, right and stuff like that. So I don't think overall, I know, the National Team now gets together, you know, more frequently throughout the year with camps. And you know, I think, and bonding, and I think that's essential, right. But sometimes you don't have the timeframe to do that.
Sami Jo: Even our first my first World Championships, we were together a total of two weeks so the tournament itself is probably a week and work together. We prior to that, it a part of it is flying over to the championship. But you're right, it's the breakfast is that you have together and making the conscious effort, I always tried to make the conscious effort to, you know, sit beside somebody maybe that I didn't know. Or if there was, you know, early in my career, I was the outsider, because I was going to school in California and I didn't really know people as much but then I became the insider playing for the Toronto Aeros where, you know, a ton of the girls were playing. So that's when I really tried to make the conscious effort to sit beside some of the newer girls. And I'm sure those girls did that for you, as well, you know, reached out because you were probably the lone person from that area making that extra effort. Did you feel that way?
Susie: Yeah, like, I mean, I think at times, like I see, like, you know, my line means like Vicki and Laura made me feel very welcome and Kim but it's like, it was it was just a short period of time, right? And you're going to the rink and you're coming back feels like it's only in those moments. So you're having your meals or you're getting ready to go otherwise you're resting. Later you're in change room getting dressed. At that time everybody's kind of in their own little zone and preparing for what's coming up.
Sami Jo: When you guys actually won and you beat the Americans in the final and you came home with the medal First of all, did anybody travel to watch you play or did you come home and then that was the first time that you know
Susie: No. Nobody travelled because, like, again, I think I don't think it really is. I don't think it was it really. How can I describe it?
Sami Jo: It wasn't a big deal probably prior to that.
Susie: Well, yeah, we didn't I don't think anybody , like recognized the moment in what was actually happening in the game of women's hockey, right, and women's sport. And so nobody came from my family traveled. But when I came home and I was at the airport, and I came out, I was really actually like told mom and dad was coming. So I knew they were going to come pick me up. But then, you know, my brother was there, and my sister in law and my other sister, my brother in law, and, you know, Eric was there and my uncle Kenny was there. And then there was like, like, another couple, I don't know if they were there picking up someone else but they were like, knew my mom and dad. So they were like, standing there to you. And it was just, you know, they had flowers. And it was just, it was really nice. But I just, you know, I just, it's it was it was just it was really surreal. You know, I remember being on the plane coming home and probably get in trouble for this.
Sami Jo: We can always cut it if you get in trouble.
Susie: Well, I was in the plane coming home, right? And then like, it was just bizarre. Like this guy gave me this bracelet is like, because I guess I had my jacket on and stuff and they announced it on the plane. Right. And then the pilot wanted to meet me. I got to go and sit in the cockpit.
Sami Jo: That's awesome.
Susie: I know what I mean. They could get in trouble for that. The pilots I mean.
Sami Jo: Yeah, but back in the day. I mean, that's probably he was just the fact that he was so excited. Yeah, that's amazing. Yeah. So I mean, I got to go listen and meet the pilot and the crew.
Sami Jo: Did you have your little white jumpsuit on to at the time?
Susie: I think, I don't know if I had no I didn't have my white jumpsuit on like my tracksuit, I think I had maybe my jacket on and stuff and I had my hat on. I was wearing my pink hat, which is probably all autographed and stuff so I mean, it was pretty exciting. But it was it was just good. It was just I don't know how to explain the sound yet. I think it was probably just so quick.
Sami Jo: I mean, the same thing happened to me in ‘99. Coming back from the World Championships, we went we win. It's exciting.
Susie: That was Finland, right.
Sami Jo: And it was in Finland, but it was, you know, I came back to school in California, where I mean, my friends were happy for me but it was, you know, it's Oh, great. That's awesome. But you know, what, what are you doing later? What's going on? Like, it was just everybody was in their back to their reality, and my life has had changed so dramatically but then when I stopped and thought about us, like, it really hasn't changed. You know, I only just had two weeks of this amazing experience. But the reality is everybody like else’s life goes on. And it was it was a weird transition coming back from those first, because lots happens in two weeks, right? You're, you become this so much growth and you meet so many people
Susie: You were the MVP tournament goaltender. I was there Sami, I was there. But I was reflecting back on that when that that moment. And I don't know if it was with the Chinese team.
Sami Jo: I do remember that. I remember I really running into you at one of the when all the teams used to get together at the World Championships; we used to have that where you had a meal with all the different teams. And all of a sudden you come running over, like Sue, I hear I'm in Finland, like what is Susie Yuen doing here in Finland, and you have your Chinese jacket on. We're going to talk about coaching in China in a little bit. But it was really surreal for me. And I think, you know, sometimes having a little piece of home just makes it the moment so much more special. So having you there. And same thing in 2000 the same thing happened. I don't even think I knew that you're coming. But then it just feels so much more familiar. And whether you know whether you're I always felt like you were this big sister looking over me. So have you over in Finland was just incredible. But I remember all my teammates wanting to take pictures with all of the Chinese girls, and you being able to like will speak both languages. So be able to communicate, it was the first time that our team could communicate with the Chinese team. And so there you were like this go between and like I know her, she's really is my friend.
Susie: And I gotta say that was like I was one of my proudest moments like, you know, having them announce your name and come down there and to see you receive that it was just like, and I don't know at the moment, I think I was like so proud of the moment but now that I've had some time to reflect the fact that I was just there.
Sami Jo: I hope you know how much like you were instrumental in that being able to even happen. So without you in my life, I would have never seen another woman that was in a position that I wanted to be in. I wouldn't have even known that there was even a National Team. You're the only reason I even knew there was a National Team, let alone somebody that thought that I could even be there, and you believe me probably more than I ever believed in myself.. I can remember you going to the camp in ‘92, and you bringing me back an autograph from Manon Rhéaume and somebody else was on it as well but it was like a tablecloth that you had gone and got autographed by I think the two goalies at the time. Anyways, that was on my wall forever because you said to me, and you said, you know, these guys are there right now. But you're going to be there someday, too. And I don't know if you remember that at all. But it really meant the world to me because it meant that somebody else, this woman that has achieved greatness, in my mind, believe that I could be there too. So in ‘99, when you were there, able to celebrate with me, that meant the world to me. I'm not going to make you cry, And we could change the questioning. So let's go back a little bit to your family structure. And your family in general, I can remember going over to your, to your house and there, your grandma being there, your parents being there, your brothers, their wives, the kids, it was really my first time in a multi-generational home. But what I loved about it was just the energy and the love that was in that home. And I want to know, from your perspective, what it was like growing up in that environment? how did how did you have this confidence as a woman that you could achieve? Did you see that within your family structure? And yeah, talk a little bit to about I can remember the Chinese food restaurant going to get Chinese food at Peking, which is the restaurant your parents owned. But then you taking me in the back to say, Sammy, this is actually how real Chinese people eat. And the first time and just feeling like I was a part of this family, everybody that came into your family, you just you felt instantly welcomed. And so tell me a little bit about that.
Susie: Well, thank you again, because that's really kind and, and just kind of adding on to what you were saying coming over to the house and seeing everybody and I think we were just all really ecstatic to see Santa Claus.
Sami Jo: It was Sami Claus at the time. You guys knew it was me? I can remember your grandma, your grandma, feeling my hat. Wanting to feel my hat.
Susie:I have a picture of you and grandma, you in the suit. But yeah, you know what? I'm really grateful. And fortunate, I think, to have grown up in you know, in the family that I think it's when I actually think about it. You know, my parents were Chinese immigrants. It's all I really knew, though, right? It's all I really knew we didn't know any different. And that's, you know, that's, that's my, my parents, right? It's, that's just the way it was. And, you know, everybody was, as a child, everybody was always welcome in our home. I remember, like, you know, my parents would host Christmas parties, and there'd be all these people over, you know, the food and drink and Mahjong. And they'd be like, all these kids would be running around. I remember walking into the house and object just like things slapping it, I thought was yelling at each other, they're just always had, you're like, I don't know, they're just playing. Playing it's excitement, right? It's just, it's just the sound of it. Right? And it's only ever knew like, it was just always people over. And it wasn't just like, you know, it wasn't just like Chinese people, right? Like you might get my Dad, you know, was, I didn't know any different, like, you know, you'd have like, you know, Tony was over, he was always over, he used to be a judge. And then you know, he, his wife and a few couples would be over and they would all we would all be partaking and sharing in the food and just socializing and enjoying and like I said, like, you know, my, my Dad's Mom and Dad's friends would be over and their kids and we would all be playing and running around the house. It was just the way it was. And I think I think for my Mom and Dad, I mean, I think traditionally they probably had in their in their mindset, what would be you know, I guess traditionally what they would be hoping for their children. Right? I think it's not just Chinese parents, I think all parents right. Hope for their kids to you know achieve what they want to achieve to you know, you know, be successful in a career to find someone to share their life with and get married and have children like traditionally send straight like and be okay? And be looked after and taken care of and all those things. But I think those foundations are definitely within me. Right. But I don't think there was any kind of I don't want to say like, say, I don't know if limitation was the word, but I think that it was just anything was possible. Like when I think about my father, you know, he used to own race horses, you know, back in like the late 60s and 70s. And if I was, I don't think I knew any different because I was going with him, like, you know, in the 70s to the track, and what do I think about it, like, he might have been one of the only Chinese horse owners. Right, but I mean, he, you know, he started his own like him and mom had a business cafe, you know, it was just part of the fabric. And they were able to I guess, financially as my Dad's like hobby or interest was to own race horses and do this, but I remember playing at the track, and I was probably one of the only, you know, with my brother running around Howie we running around and stuff. And in that, you know, it's probably one of the only Asian families running around with all the kids. And it's like the trainers, kids and the jockeys, kids and other owners, kids and stuff. And I don't think there was any, in my mind, like, if I look back at it now, and I can reflect well, yeah, that's it. But at that moment, I didn't think I knew any different. You know, and I don't think that my parents gave us any indication that we were, you know, it's funny, my nephew is over here. And he was looking at some pictures that I have up here, and he was showing his kids. And, you know, there's a picture of Mom and Dad, and Ed, and Howie’s in skates and, you know, we're in our winter boots, and we're standing outside taking a picture in front of the school and like, Howie, he's like skating, he must have been like, like, maybe eight. I don't even know how he got his skates. My dad wasn't on skates, you know, I don't even know. But he was, I think whatever we kind of showed interest in or kind of maybe asked about they got for us. Like it wouldn't say like, you know, we can't do that. It was like, somehow, whether they were, you know,
Sami Jo: Did they ever treat you differently because you were a girl? Did you ever feel like you couldn't also achieve?
Susie: I don't think I should also I wasn't that I couldn't achieve is like, well, maybe you know was like, you know, you should think about this. It's like, maybe you should think about this, right? Like, I think like the first time Mom and Dad actually came in watch me play hockey. I think it was my first year playing on the club team, right. And after the game, I came out and my dad didn't really see much he just looked. I mean, he could you know, he knows sports. My parents are, you know knowledgeable about sports. And when my mom said to me, oh, you know, you're going to get hurt. Right, you're going to get hurt because she could see the physicality of the game and maybe the size of the players. But clearly, like my father wasn't concerned, right? Because you knows, you know, I get hold of my own and stuff. But that was my mom's first impression. Like, you know, I don't know if he should play this or like, you know, like, get hurt. So they, I mean, they probably would say things like that but they never, I wouldn't say they ever discouraged me if I ever
Sami Jo: They were more just realistic that they were discouraging, maybe.
Susie: Yeah, they weren't like, you know, I wasn't. I was gonna say something really? stereotypic but you know, was like, wasn't really good at math wasn't gonna play the piano. Yeah.
Sami Jo: So they could see you excelling in sport, you probably I mean, you've probably played a ton of different sports growing up, right. And so this was just probably another sport for them.
Susie: Well, yes, yes, I guess to a certain degree, but I think we played and Ed and Howie like that's one thing we did a lot is we played right? Like, you know, we're we just go into in the yard and played in head with organize things. And so as far as being like, physically active, was very physically active and when were young. Plus, you know, my parents like, even though they weren't physically active, like they always took us out.
Sami Jo: Well, and they were always working so hard. I mean, oh, yeah, we're, I mean, I can remember you having picking you up at the restaurant so many times where you had to prep for three hours prior to the rush or whatever. And it was just the expectation, and probably for all of you guys, the expectation was you work and then you can play, like, do what you want.
Susie: Well, work hard play hard.
Sami Jo: That was the Yuen mantra.
Susie: Right. That was the way it was right. But yeah, like I think like, I really give a lot of credit to my parents for what they did and the foundations and the opportunities for all of us. Right. You know, I think the one thing you know, you talk about family like the family dynamics, which is honestly feel so blessed so so grateful for, for everything in the wisdom and the blending. Right, it was really a blending of cultures without even knowing that it was blended because everything was just this is just the way it was. But traditions of being, you know, a pretty traditional Chinese family, you know, and, and just kind of Canadian culture and the things that we were living not, you know, just living in life, right. And so I'm blessed for that. Like, it's interesting because there was no differentiation. Just kind of, you know, like, you know, some people might look at me and say, like Chinese people and say, Oh, yeah, you know, I don't know if you've heard this term, I don’t even know if this is appropriate. Oh, you're like a banana. Chinese people.
Sami Jo: I have heard that term.
Susie: So it's like, I'm yellow on the outside but I'm white on the inside. You know what I mean? But I don't think I don't really look at myself like that. Because I don't think I'm like that. In the sense that Yeah, I'm like this, and people only think I'm trying to say, Filipino.
Sami Jo: That's cuz you're in Winnipeg.
Susie: Well, yeah. But even in China, I mean, China when I lived in China, like, you know, nobody thought I was, they all knew I was a foreigner. But they all call me like a foreigner. And but it's like, I have those traditions, right. So they're deep rooted. And I think that's what makes it all unique. Right? It's like, I don't know, this is a sidetrack but you know, like, when, when people in that and I think we talked about this kind of on the side the other day, like when I went out to Bridgewater,
Sami Jo: I love that story. Yeah. Can you share that story?
Susie: When I skated at Bridgewater with, with Howie right, like, he's, you know, they just said, he just let it kind of the field because they don't have a community center in that neighborhood. And we're skating up there, like on a Sunday afternoon. And it was just amazing. Like, you know, there's different parents that are shoveling everybody. You know, the guys, the Dads were shoveling the snow, the little kids are skating around the Moms, you know, and all these Chinese kids. Right? I hadn't, I hadn't seen this many Chinese skating for, like, even since maybe since China. Like on the ice, right? And they're little ones and they're like six years old, and they're kind of trying to whip around and then their moms are there encouraging them right like this, and the Moms got skates on skating around to you. And, you know, there was a few older, you know, adult Chinese men that were there on their skates, and they were trying to learn to skate and it was just like, Wow, this is so amazing, right? Because where they, like, it's so foreign to them from where they came from. yet. Here they are. They're trying it. They're wanting to do it. Right. And they're being out here. And it was like a beautiful day, the sun was shining, you know, you could have your jacket open, it was so warm out and everybody's just blending around, you know, he had a few teenage neighborhood girls, they're like, you know, groups of three, and they're hanging around putting on their skates, and we're all just sharing, right? Sharing the space and respectful like, you know, we had our sticks and pucks. So we were, we were kind of passing around and away from them. But they were watching and we were watching and nobody was everybody was just respecting each other space and, and just, you know, doing something we all love skating, playing hockey. Like it was just it was beautiful.
Sami Jo: That's incredible. How can How can hockey be like that more often? Do you think like, how can hockey be more inclusive that way?
Susie: Wow, that's a big, that's a big question. I mean, it happens organically at times like that. That's so special. Right? So how can that happen more often? When you when you ask that? What do you mean like that? That? That blending?
Sami Jo: Yeah, for instance, you know, obviously in Winnipeg, there's more outdoor rinks. And there's more of that people can just go on the ice. And so is that something, you know, living here in the GTA now? You know, how can we provide those opportunities for people to feel like they feel welcome?
Susie: I'm not really I can't really speak on the GTA just because I'm not familiar with it. But I think, you know, I've often thought about this, right? Like, you know, I'm kind of both in you know, when I go skating, I'm kind of coasting around and I see the little kids I go up and I talked to them and I try to help them try to teach them I can't help it. Like it really can't.
Sami Jo: You’re a coach at heart.
Susie: I know. You can't help it, I can't help it like at first I've kind of like, you know, just let them within I come up and then I started past, you know, and stuff like that and passing the puck or showing them stuff. I think that if there are resources available, right, then we really got to look at, you know, I don't know if you want to call it an inclusion, but exposure, right, you want to take different populations and really just kind of expose them to the game and the sport that might not, you know, have that opportunity or be, you know, financially capable of doing that. So I think you have to target that. But I think you also need to kind of, you know, we've kind of touched this a little bit the other day, like I was watching CBC, Hockey Day in Canada. I mean, I think you need to have people.
Sami Jo: And I think I can say it for you, because I think what we saw was a lot of white people teaching a lot of people of diverse backgrounds, we'll say, on the ice, and there wasn't the thought to have the leaders be people like you. I mean, that to me is just so I mean, as a, you know, to sidetrack from race as a female to see you made me believe I could be there too. So now, you know, as that little Chinese girl, Chinese Canadian, for her to see you, she believes she can be there too. But for her to see me, it's probably not a big deal. You know, so I think it's really important to have people like you in those positions of power. And I think any company, any organization, including hockey, can only be stronger with people like you in those positions, showing kids, they can do it, showing that next generation, they can be there and do it, and be able to have a different skill set a different background, to just come at problems from a different way. I think it's just so important to have diversity. And we didn't see that right on TV. And we talked about that we saw the diversity amongst the kids, but we didn't see it amongst the instructors.
Susie: No, and I think, you know, it's, it's, it's so critical, because I think it's like a role model. Right. It's like seeing like what you said, like when you saw me, I was kind of the only female kind of in your life that was playing hockey. And you thought, wow, like, that's something I can do. And I think that's important, like in our game, right? You know, when I say our game I mean hockey, I feel like it's our game. And I know when I go out to the clubs, and I'm playing even now with the boys. Like, I mean, I think they're kind of like, Oh, you know, she can play hockey they have no concept…
Sami Jo: She’s actually really good. Yes.
Susie: Yeah, she's good, right? Like, but they even don't even have any concept of how old I am. Right? I'm out there. And I'm kind of giving her Yeah. Like I'm giving her right, like,
Sami Jo: You’ve never stopped giving ‘er.
Susie: You know what I mean? Like, if I think about if I compare it to someone else, to my age out there doing what it says, at least the other day, I kind of thought, Oh my gosh, like, you know, thank God, I have my health. And I'm able to do it. But at the same time, I'm thinking like, they're probably thinking, you know, like, I go out, and I'm with my brother. And I'm with my niece and fiancé, and my nephew and the kids. And we're, we're probably we were all I would say, the majority of the time, we were probably the most ethnic people out there. Say that right of diversity. And I'm thinking like, well, how are they thinking about this? You know, what I mean? Like, how are how are they like, seeing us? You know, I mean, the one day I even the smallest things sound me like I told because we were organizing, we're going to go the club and I said, like I phoned because I don't have a shovel, right? And I was like, oh how we like bring your shovel. Nicky, bring your shovel, right? And sure enough to get there and there's a bit of snow and we're skating around and the pucks get stuck. And then I'm like, like Howie did you bring your shovel? He goes, Yeah, it's in the car. Right? And I'm like, go get it. Because seriously, I said, Yeah, how are we gonna play here? Right? So I go and I he goes to the car and gets the shovel and then I'm like, going up the middle back and forth. Like, probably like did like, you know, almost like, whatever. Not quite, but
Sami Jo: But you’ve just have such a community based thought mentality. The fact that you're even thinking what others know, what are they thinking about the situation For the fact that you have a thought to, I need to make this better. I need to get the shovel and make this better for everybody. Right. I felt like that's always your first thought.
Susie: Well, I don’t know. So then I shoveled the thing, right. And then the other the one guy that I met his name's Fisher kid, right? He's there with his mom and his sister, right? And then I go, Hey, I'm gonna just shovel this and then we'll like, we'll throw the sticks in and goes, Yeah, that's I was thinking that too, right? Little Fish says that little Fisher says that. He's like, maybe like 11 or 12. So then I'm done and right. And then the older guys are playing at that end. And I'm like, I like I'm done shoveling. Because I've been shoveling, like two thirds of the rink. And like the middle part, like I'm done. I'm done. Okay. So then little Fisher, because Oh, yeah. And I said, Well, you want the shovel after that, you can do that. And you're right. And then we gave it to the big guys. And then the big guys did there. And but it was just like, I don't know. I mean, that's, that's a small thing. But it's inclusion, and it gets, you know, people, we threw our sticks in, we played shinny we got involved and people played and, you know, it was a lot of fun. But I now as an adult, I kind of think sometimes what do these people think? Because we're not your typical? Like, our generation, by far, right? Like when you say, well, when you were growing up, did you think about, you know, opportunities and stuff, or stereotypes and those sorts of things, right. And I didn't, I was just, I think I was just oblivious or naive to that. But I think with a lot of things that have happened recently, you know, in the world today, and that there is this mentality or thought about these sorts of things that you know, we're just not looking, I think we will, I've always looked at my parents too it’s just people, right, it's not, you're not looking at their skin color, or where they come from, it's like.
Sami Jo: You're just always getting to know people. I feel like that's what makes you and your family so special is that you guys, always I say inclusive, for lack of a better word, but you always wanted to know the person as them. And that, you know, you know, that was the, the when you got to know me, you got to know my parents, you got to know my brother, you want to know, my friends, like, you really got to know the person. And I think you that's what has made you so special as a friend, as you've done that with all your friends as well, you’re integral in their life, whether you've like worked your way into their lives or integral.
Susie: So now you can't get rid of me.
Sami Jo: Um, let's change tracks. I just sort of one more area of questioning that I want to talk to you about that I just find absolutely fascinating. And that's your time over in China coaching with the Chinese team. So this was in the 90s. Right? This would have been in the 90s. So how much time do you spend over there? And really, what, what was it like coaching in China? I think you originally went over to be a player, right? Then you couldn't get a…
Susie: Well, I initially went in there early, or mid 90s because I was interested in, you know, playing hockey, I knew there was not an opportunity for me to here. So I went to China with my sister-in-law. And you know, we traveled a bit and then we went, you know,
Sami Jo: I didn’t realize your sister in law went with you.
Susie: Oh my god. Yeah. Jing went with me. And I was like, we had we had a great time, like an incredible experience. Like, you know, I mean, we traveled to China, we went to Thailand, you know, and then we went up north. And I mean, I was not fluent in the language of Mandarin. But she was, and you know, she grew up there.
Sami Jo: Because your parents didn't speak Mandarin.
Susie: Correct. And didn't Toisan right, which is from southern China. And so, so as Jing she's from southern China, too, but she speaks Mandarin because she, she was born there. And you know, she was a professional, trained Chinese opera singer. And he said, and I told her, I don't know how the conversation started. When they I thought, you know, I want to go there. She goes, Well, if you want to go home, I'll take you. Because she knows the ways, right? She's, so we went and it was like, it was an incredible experience. Right. We traveled we met the team. I mean, I honestly I don't think there was really interest for me at that time.
Sami Jo: Did you go see the team up in Harbin is that when
Susie: Yes I went to Harbin. I think we were there. I think we might have been there six days. Right? So we got there. They picked us up at the airport and went straight to the rink I had to put on my gear
Sami Jo: Oh you were right on the ice with them too.
Susie: Well, yeah, they picked me up and you know I was like, you know, nighttime and they were practicing so they wanted to see me I was like, exhausted from traveling. And you know, and like we went to Hong Kong first and with the southern China, but like, I mean, we're eating we're, you know, partying karaoke being dancing like, you know, it was like, and then I'm here we are on a plane to Harbin and I'm like, supposed to getting on the plane get off and I'm going straight to the rink to put on my gear, and I feel so heavy. And I'm trying to skate with these girls that are like, this is what they do. This is what they do they train. Right? So they're in shape. They're all like, you know, it's like, anyways, I don't think it was a first good ice session. Then it was like dinner that night and a bit of karaoke in the back of the hotel. I'm getting up and I'm trying to go skate. And so, but it was fun. It was, you know, was an introduction, right? That's all part of it. Right? The socialization and getting to know each other. But I really don't think they had like they had their team. I don't think they needed me at that time. Right. But they were interested, they were intrigued? Who was this person coming from Canada, right? And wants to play hockey? all the way here, right.
Sami Jo: And the Chinese team did have a very strong team. I mean, they were often fighting for medals at the time, right? So they, they were very strong. And I'm sure that your skills probably showed on the ice. But most of those girls, and you had told me this, that they were plucked away from their families when they are quite young to be hockey players. So you not going through that was probably so different.
Susie: Yeah. And I think at that time, it was it was a different time. Right. So I mean, I don't know if I would necessarily say like plucked from their families. But the thing is, you know, if they played if they were speed skaters, one of my best friends had come from speed-skating Hong Mei and it's like, just identify that this person has skills. And they were starting a hockey team. So I mean, where would you go, you got to go find, you know, players that can skate. So they brought them in. So there was an incredible like opportunity for these girls to play a new sport. And, you know, it's just a different system, they would be under the government system. There's a lot of advantages that go along with that.
Sami Jo: And so they move to Harbin all these girls.
Susie: No, all these girls were from Harbin. Okay. We're from Harbin. Some of them were from Chungchun, which was another northern, I think there was like, maybe two or three girls from there. But most of these kids were like, from that area. They weren't like, you know, from, from very far. There's a couple of them that weren't. But they were all from that area. They all lived around there. And you know, what, they just they just developed their team through that, but they trained every day, right? Like it was, it was it was kind of, it's no different than if there was somebody here a young girl or boy who was really, you know, focused on ballet. Since you know, that's not something that you can just do kind of part time and be at the peak of your sport, right.
Sami Jo: You go to the National Ballet School. You are you're in it, right?
Susie: Yeah, you go to school in the morning, you go practice in the afternoon. I remember in high school, one of the girls I went to school with was in the ballet. And that's what she did. Right. That was the commitment. And for these women, that was their commitment to the sport, but they also had a very different philosophy. You know, I think, actually, I went they were here in Canada. They came to Canada in ‘97. Prior to the Nagano, Olympics, and they had well, we hosted them here. When was the Kitchener World Champs in 97?
Sami Jo: In ’97 also.
Susie: Yeah, okay. So we hosted them here in Winnipeg because they wanted to come over and acclimatized and change and time change all that stuff. So we host, the Bisons, and hosted them here. We had a little tournament, they trained here for a bit and then they went on to Kitchener. And then they invited me in Jing to go with them. So then we went to Kitchener with them, right. And, yeah, and that was a lot of fun. And so it was, you know, June, I was able to, you know, starting to pick up the language a little bit. And then in the fall, there was an April right into March, April was the world and then in the fall, they came in August. And they were living in Edmonton and training. Right. And they had called over and said, Hey, you know, why don’t you come over for a visit, we're here. So I went over there and me and Jing went over there, flew over there and then we visited and then they asked me if I would, you know, come and help them. So I did so then I gave up my job.
Sami Jo: So that was after Nagano.
Susie: No this is before Nagano.
Sami Jo: So between the worlds in Kitchener and Nagano, right, you helped coach the team.
Susie: Well I don't know if I'd say coach the team, I guess it consulted and it's on the ice with them I was working like, you know, with the goalies, like I would with you practicing different things
Sami Jo: That’s your favorite thing in the whole world is shooting on goalies.
Susie: Yeah, and rebounds and trying to you know, you know, create a rebound right now on this
Sami Jo: Well the Chinese team had one of the best goalies in the world in Guo Hong.
Susie: Right? Yeah. Yeah. So just like different things like that, or, you know, so also, you know, translating and help them kind of navigate through through their stay here, but they have a lot of support. Right. And the Alberta Hockey Association was very supportive.
Sami Jo: Overall, what do you think you took from your experience with Team China?
Sami Jo: Like, what did you learn for about yourself? Maybe in that, in that situation of what you would then go on to use some of those lessons later in life?
Susie: I think, you know, for me, I think it was kind of learning and understanding how to negotiate yourself, right, to negotiate through the dynamics of the system. Right, it was still, you know, in my mind, a very male organized system, as much as you know, the leader would ask me, you know, my thoughts, and I would express those thoughts, and he would express those thoughts, the coaching staff and the coaching, you know, the coach would come and try to address those with me. No no no no, you know, kind of thing, like, and I'm just saying, well, this is just my observation.
Sami Jo: Because you knew the game. I mean, you knew the game, so well.
Susie: Yeah. And it just things, different little things you would see, like, what you're doing, how you're, you know, whatever your power play, things like that, which were, you know, but I learned that, you know, obviously, the leader is asking me, who was the person, you know, in a position to make decisions is asking me my opinion, and I'm giving him my opinion. He's relaying what he thinks my opinion is, I mean, he's evaluating my opinion, as well, right? And then taking it to the coach, and maybe the coach is not agreeing with that. And, you know, understanding it's coming from me, and then coming to talk to me about it right here right to it, just like, you know, I mean, so really learning the process of negotiation, learning how to get your coach, never, the coach never really asked me what my thoughts were. I had had some discussions with the assistant coach, because he had his opinions, right. Like, it's a dynamic, right? And you have to, I mean, that's no different than here. But I think there was just, you know, I mean, obviously, also coming from a woman at the time, what about a foreigner, before foreigner to Right, right, of what their philosophy is, like, they were very Russian influence, okay, with the things that, you know, the drills that they were doing the kind of things like, you know, it didn't you know, and I think for me to like, like my passion and love for the game, right? It's very grassroots, it's very basic fundamentals, right. But for me to like when I was on the ice whipping around, like joking around, come up that, also maybe like all kind of like that, once they got to know me, they think like, I'm kind of goofy, right? They think like, like, this person is really goofy. And but, you know, for them, it was different, because it was like training full time, right?
Sami Jo: They were, they were serious.
Susie: They were very serious.
Sami Jo: I can remember playing against their team at the time, really, prior to your influence and seeing the hard work, the dedication, they executed every skill and task perfectly. But prior to I think, perhaps your influence, there wasn't the sense of the game. And that's what you did. So Well, as you read the game, you know, there was nobody within that system that really had that ability, I think prior to you, so you, in my opinion brought that to them, to allow them to see the game in a different way. And maybe, you know, you didn't always get your opinion across to the brass, but the girls started to change, you know, the players started to see it differently. And I think the game thanks to your influence, I think
Susie: I don't know about that. I don't know. But you know what
Sami Jo: I can see it at my hockey school you're always trying to implement that, you know, thinking the game to the girls and not many coaches have that ability because they themselves didn't necessarily think thinks the game you know, four or five six moves ahead. That's what you always did so well.
Susie: But when you know what, I think that was the difference, right? But because It's gonna be interesting because like, I roomed with Hong Mei and Dang Hong, who was the captain, and Hong Mei they was assistant captain, so I roomed with those guys in Edmonton. So, I mean, we hung out quite a bit, almost like, all the time. So we'd have these conversations, and we talk about stuff. And it's funny, because probably, because what I was there with them for a while, and then I was, you know, going to go home, right. But then they asked them the leader and asked me to go to China with them. Asked me if I would be interested in going to China to help them. And I was thinking about it. And those, those two girls are actually trying to discourage me.
Sami Jo: Right, you did it? We don't know.
Susie: You don't know what it's like, you know, like, you know, you don't know what it's like, they're not gonna, you know, this kind of thing. And I'm like, Oh, my God, this is like, dream come true. I get to go, write, live, breathe. Sleep, hockey. That's what those guys do. Like, I was so excited. Yet these guys because they've been doing it so long. And it was more like work for them. Like a job. Right? It wasn't. And for me, it was just exciting. Fun. Like, this is like, something I've always aspired to that I never got you. Just in a short time with the National Team. I got to do that. Right. Like I got to …
Sami Jo: I'm sure that energy helped them see it in a different way to…
Susie: Oh, yeah. But they thought I was crazy. They thought I was crazy. Like it. Like even Dang Hang said to me, like you're out of your mind. Like, what are you doing? You're quitting your job? You’re selling my vehicle because I didn't need it, right. And I was like, I quit my job. I just like, yeah, I'm just gonna go do this. Right. And, and, but you know, what, it was the best experience of my life. And like, it was the best decision I could have made at that time, because I had just gotten, you know, finished University was graduated. And it was kind of, you know, what was it going to do next? Right, and this opportunity came up. And I mean the only thing is, I think that when I came back the opportunities that I thought, I don't even know if I really thought but there wasn't really opportunities, right?
Sami Jo: Within the game of hockey at the time, and I was like, Well, what do I do now? Because they go, you know, like you said, How long did it go? I lived there for six months. And it was like, What do I do now? Like, thank God, like, we had the family business. And I could just slide in, you know, in there and do that, too. I figured out, you know, what I wanted to do, right? It was always, that was the great thing about it always, you know, didn't have to worry about that. Right? And, but there really wasn't the opportunities, right? I even actually went to Ames, Iowa, that summer, because there was I had met when I was in China, or no, in Edmonton, there was a couple there. And that fellow had played on the men's Chinese National Team, and he was in Iowa. And there, he had called me and asked me if I would come down, because he played on the men’s team there, but it was a club team. And then it would look team and they were hoping that, you know, maybe, you know, they could take it off to the next level. Well elevate, yeah, you know, into a division, right? and stuff like that. So I actually went down there, and I got a camp, you know, when instructed for whatever week or whatever, five days, and then I kind of met some people and stuff, and it just wasn't really there. Right, like,
Sami Jo: Well, no opportunity for coaching was even in, in Iowa, but the opportunity for women coaching in general, at the time, and even nowadays is you know, was a struggle, and there was very, very few positions available. It's really too bad that the opportunity for professional hockey in China that exists now within the CWHL didn't exist for you back then. Because that would have been a perfect segue for you to go into that into that scenario, right?
Susie: Oh, would have been prime. It would have been prime, I would love it. But you know, the other thing I thought about like, when I came back was like, well, maybe this is not you know, this is not you know, I thought about the lifestyle too. Right. Right. You know, because before I left, I was with the Bison club program and you know, it was going to be head coaching that program. You know, I had Darren Juby to visit assistant Laura Solberg as an assistant and Orville Acres right. He was going to be your scouting guy. So I had had kind of got my coaching staff together for my coaching core together that you know, we were going to, you know, You know, as the boys and women's team was transitioning from a club program to, you know, a varsity program, and I also kind of gave that up too right. But when I came back, I thought, well, what happens? You know, you reflect on things. Well, what happens if I didn't leave? And I would have stayed, and I would have done this? And, you know, who knows, maybe I would have been successful at it. Maybe I wouldn't do it for maybe I would have burned out, right. But I thought, you know, that would have been a different lifestyle. For me, right. Like, just like, taking the family business over would have been a different lifestyle for me. And I think I've thought about that, and like, you know, to be, you know, coaching, you know, five days a week and playing every weekend and trying to do that, as much as I love the game and the passion. I don't know if that would have been the lifestyle that I would have wanted. Right, like, you know, so I did think about that. I’m right where I am supposed to be now. But hockey has been so generous to me to be honest I’ve made such incredible lifetime friendships. That’s what we have at the bottom line. When you think about life and you’ve had loss. Like I’ve lost both of my parents and I think about life what do you have? What is there at the end of the day? End of life it’s the memories. You can have financial wealth, that’s great and stability is important don’t get me wrong. I would never dispute that it makes life much easier and enjoyable. Without a doubt it’s the memories where you laugh or you overcome things those challenges. I still have… where is it? I should have pulled it out. I still have the bowl.
Sami Jo: What was that bowl for?
Susie: It was named after your George stuffy.
Sami Jo: My dog’s stuffed animal Wrinkles.
Sami Jo: What was the bowl for?
Susie: That was the driveway basketball challenge. You made it at school a cup and you put the plastic lid on top. Whoever lost had to put a coin and we would fill it. So whoever won it got to take it home got to take it home until the next challenge. That’s what I loved about and I feel I am not going to be friends with everybody in life but those friends who I make they are all competitive.
Sami Jo: We are all a little crazy like you.
Susie: We are all competitive and I love that. You want you to excel, you want to be the best you can you want those around you to excel as much as you can and inspire that just elevates the whole picture. It’s no different in our personal lives or work life or in sport That’s what brings people on the same page. And you buy in and you are able to accomplish things you didn’t think were possible and ya. But I still have that. I still have that I have it Sami.
Sami Jo: We need to play again that’s what it is. 3 puck challenge next time I am home. I feel like that is a perfect way to end. That really to me synopsizes, I don’t even know if that is a word but what you brought to my life. Was that friendship and really what I think in sport is the people that we get to meet along the way. I really appreciate you coming on this podcast, sharing so much with us, just being you. I can’t share my appreciation for you enough and it has been such a pleasure. I’ve even learned some stuff and I need to think of a game we are going to play next time.
Susie: I want to thank you so much for having me share this with you because it’s really a joy for me. I am so grateful to have you in my life. So thank you.
Sami Jo: Well thanks Sue.
Susie: I wish you all the best.
Sami Jo: You too, bye.
Music/Man voice: Thank you for listening to Sami Jo’s Podcast. If you have suggestions for guests in the future, would like to book her for your next event, advertise on this podcast or to purchase a her latest book, The Role I Played please go to www.samijosmall.ca