Cristine Chao is a force to be reckoned with on the Varsity Blues women’s hockey team. She came in hot as a rookie, being named a member of both the Ontario University Athletics (OUA) and Canadian Interuniversity Sport — now U SPORTS — all-rookie teams. Since then, Chao only continued to prove her worth as a defenseperson throughout her career as a Blue. She racked up OUA team all-star titles in her second and third years, and was also named the OUA’s Defender of the Year, Most Sportsmanlike Player, and an OUA First Team All-Star in her fourth year.
This past season, Chao was an integral force in catapulting her team to the McCaw Cup, and their ticket to nationals. The Varsity asked Chao to reflect on her hockey career and her success as a Blue, and to offer some words of wisdom for incoming athletes.
Chao’s love of hockey came early and forcefully: “Every year, I begged my parents to let me play, but instead they would just put me in figure skating lessons,” she wrote in an email to The Varsity.
“I still remember [that] day clearly. My parents drove home from one of my brother’s games and told me that I could start playing the following year. I was super excited, as I loved watching hockey on TV, watching my brothers play, and playing around in my basement or at the rinks.”
From there, Chao skyrocketed in the sport, with the support of her parents. “I only played house league, which is the lowest level possible for the first four years, but I remember that I was always the fastest player and scored a lot of goals.”
Her mother had recognized her daughter’s outstanding potential in an interesting way: “I remember that my mom would pay me a toonie every time I scored three goals in a game” — the maximum number of times that a player could score in her league. “That motivated me to always get better and to try my hardest, as what kid doesn’t want money?”
After beginning to play competitively in sixth grade, Chao knew that she would be pushing herself to be the best hockey player she could. Coming to U of T, her goal was getting into Varsity hockey, and she got there. “At first I was shocked with the difference in skill level and speed,” she wrote.
This difficult transition served as fuel to her fire, as motivation to improve. “As every game passed, I started getting used to the speed of the game. It wasn’t until the second half of the season [that] I started to play my game. I’ve always been an offensive defenseman, and it [was] in the second half [that] I felt comfortable enough to start playing more offensively.”
From there, her varsity career skyrocketed, and she became a standout player on the ice. Amassing multiple OUA accolades, Chao has become a leader by example for the younger players on the team. “Over the years here at U of T, I’ve seen myself change as a leader. Even as a first year, my coach always told me that people looked up to me, and that I needed to lead by example.”
“It meant that I had a large influence on how practices were going to go, the level of focus… and the work ethic that was given by everyone. This forced me to always keep a positive attitude around the team and always give it my all during both practices and games.”
As her years as a Varsity Blue have come to a close, Chao looks back fondly on her times donning the ‘T’ jersey: “My fondest memory would be winning the McCaw Cup on home ice,” she remembered.
“I scored an empty-net goal with 1:12 left to go in the game… As the final seconds ticked down, I remember hearing the roars from the crowd and the team swarming the ice to celebrate with us. Raising that cup and skating around the rink was a 5-year long dream that I’ve had, and it’s unbelievable that I was able to achieve that at my last game ever at Varsity Arena.”
Chao is leaving behind a legacy of leadership and camaraderie, and has raised the bar for all future members of the Varsity Blues women’s hockey team. She’s happily finished off her career with a smile on her face and a championship cup.
Her parting words of advice for those following in her footsteps? “At first, you may be intimidated by your teammates, but remember that in the end you are all one big family, all with the same goal of winning a championship… Have fun. The four or five years are going to fly by, so try to enjoy every moment of it!”