Victoria Bach dons an Orange Jersey Project hockey jersey, an initiative she is involved with, while showing off her medals, the latest of which is a gold medal earned with Team Canada at the International Ice Hockey Federation women’s world championship tournament in Denmark. (Photo courtesy of Victoria Bach)Jan Murphy, Local Journalism Initiative

Original Published on Sep 09, 2022 at 11:45

By Jan Murphy, Local Journalism Initiative

Life is currently pretty great for Canadian women’s hockey star Victoria Bach, what with coming off winning a gold medal this month at the International Ice Hockey Federation world championship in Denmark.

The prospects for Bach’s future are pretty bright, too. At just 26, the hockey world is her oyster, she’s embarking on a career as a teacher and working to help create a professional women’s hockey league and with youth in Indigenous communities across Canada. To name some.

But on this day, Bach, whose grandmother, Shirley, was a member of the Mohawks of the Bay of Quinte, is focused on the past.

“I remember the day I told my dad I wanted to play hockey,” Bach said, recalling being inspired by the Canadian women’s hockey club’s gold medal win at the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City. “ ‘Dad, I want to play hockey,’ ” Bach recalled telling her father. ‘I want to be just like those girls I saw on TV who were playing on Team Canada at the Olympics.’ ”

Up until then, soccer was Bach’s sporting love. So, at the age of eight, she traded in her soccer cleats for skates.

“I didn’t know the resources that were available to me,” Bach said. “I didn’t know that I could play hockey.”

And while Bach most certainly could play, the hockey world hadn’t yet evolved to include much space for women.

“Anytime I would go to the rink, it was always (filled with) guys and you were always playing with the guys and changing in janitor’s room and stuff like that,” Bach recalled. “I never knew the opportunities that I could have had playing hockey.”

That’s because Bach was about to create those opportunities. But first, she had to learn to skate.

Bach’s ever-supportive father bought her hockey equipment and took her to her first tryout, which didn’t go so well, she recalled.

“I couldn’t skate and I was messing up all the drills and I was knocking over all the pylons,” she recalled with a chuckle. Through it all, she looked up at her father, who, she admitted, was a bit embarrassed for his daughter that day, but who was determined to give her every opportunity to succeed.

“He came home that night and he said ‘I’m making you an ice rink and we’re going to work on your skating. So he bought all the wood and he built me a huge ice rink in the backyard,” Bach said.

From there, it was love at first skate.

“That’s when I fell in love with the game of hockey. I spent every second out there,” Bach said, recalling how she and her father would wake up early, hit the rink before leaving for the day and be right back on the ice every night. She said her dad also created a custom hockey stick so she could work on her shooting skills.

“He created me this stick and he put a weight on the bottom of it and he told me ‘You’ve got to shoot 100 pucks a day with this stick.’ I was doing it every single day,” she recalled.

By the time hockey tryouts rolled around the next season, Bach was not only able to skate, but she’d developed a pretty sick shot, too.

She recalled how she skated to a loose puck at the tryout.

“I picked up the puck, my skating was better because I’d been working on my skating and I’d been working on my shot with this stick.”

She skated toward the goal and let a shot rip, top shelf, much to the surprise anyone not named her father.

“At the time, none of the goalies could save high shots,” Bach said. “They were so young and they could only go down in the butterfly (style). I came all the way down the ice and I just wired a shot, top corner, and I couldn’t believe it.”

Much like the year before, she gazed up into the stands at her father, who this time beamed.

Needless to say, she made that team. And so many more since.

“All those shots and spending all that time outside really paid off,” Bach said. “I think that was kind of my realization that maybe I was going to make it somewhere in hockey.”

Make it she did.

Bach played for Team Canada at the 2014 IIHF World Women’s U18 Championship, winning gold. She made her debut for the senior Canadian women’s national team in 2107 at the 4 Nations Cup. She was also recruited by Boston University, where she rewrote the school’s hockey history books.

“I still remember getting my first letter in the mail from a university,” Bach said of the recruitment letters that flowed in as her hockey star was rising. “I was the first person in my immediate family to go to university,” she said proudly. “I was pretty overwhelmed.”

At BU, Bach notched 198 career points, establishing team records in both goals and assists. She also became the first woman in the school’s history to score 100 career goals.

“Four years (went) by so quickly, but it was such an incredible experience,” Bach said. “It was really a place where I felt like I could be myself as a player and develop as a player. I think my coach there really allowed that and he allowed me to kind of develop my style of play and be a skilled player and do what I like to do the best.”

In 2017, Bach was selected 7th overall by the Metropolitan Riveters in the National Women’s Hockey League draft. In 2018, she was selected in the first round of the Canadian Women’s Hockey League by the Markham Thunder. In 2018-19, she was named the CWHL rookie of the year. In 2020, she was named to Canada’s national roster for world championships and was subsequently one of 28 women invited to Hockey Canada’s Centralization Camp, which represents the selection process for Canada’s Olympic team.

Bach said it’s hard to pinpoint her proudest moment, given that she’s had so many, but she pointed to donning the Team Canada jersey for the first time as a hard feeling to top.

“Winning a world championship for the first time when I was at under-18s (was special) because that was the first time I ever got to put on the Team Canada jersey and that feeling is something that’s really, really special.”

Being part of the centralized squad for the Canadian Olympic team is a close second, Bach said.

“Because it was Covid, we couldn’t meet in person with the coaches for them to tell us if we if we made centralization (club) she said. “Instead, they waited for a Zoom call, which Bach took while her family waited impatiently upstairs.

“Were all so nervous,” she recalled. “When they told me that I made the team and I was going to be centralized for the Olympics and move to Calgary, I remember running upstairs (to tell) my entire family,” she shared. “It was a super proud moment. It was something that I worked for my whole life.”

Not making the final roster that would represent Canada at the Olympics only served to motivate Bach to continue to chase her dreams. A spot on the Olympic team remains Bach’s No. 1 priority.

“My biggest focus right now would be (the) 2026 Winter Olympics,” she said. I would love to represent my country at the Olympics. That’s definitely first on my list.”

But it’s not her only focus.

“Second is creating a sustainable future for women’s hockey, creating a professional league,” she added. “I think it is really important. I want girls to be able to grow up and have a place where they can play hockey and they can dream of one day playing professionally and making it their job.”

And then there is remember her roots, remembering being that little girl who couldn’t skate or shoot, but who was given every opportunity to learn.

“It’s really important for me to give back, to remember where I came from,” Bach said. “That’s something that’s super important for me,” she said, revealing that she’s working with First Assist, a nonprofit organization founded by former NHL player John Chabot that provides on-site education and sports integration programs to enhance mental, emotional and physical well-being of youth in Indigenous communities across Canada.

“We go to communities and speak with kids and run hockey clinics,” Bach said, adding she hopes to bring one to Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory at some point. Don’t worry, she won’t forget her gold medals, the latest of which she earned this month when Canada edged rival U.S.A. in the gold medal game at the IIHF world championships.

“This year was honestly extra special, actually getting the chance to travel for the world championships with family,” Bach said. The worldwide COVID-19 pandemic forced so many sporting events into delays, empty stadiums and solo trips.

“COVID (forced) all of us (to work out) on our own,” Bach said. “I was working out in my backyard to prepare for the world championship.”

With COVID numbers in decline, the tournament returned this year free of restrictions, which meant family members could attend.

“Getting the chance to compete and travel, given all the hardships that we’ve had with the world championship getting cancelled and rescheduled … to finally be able to go and travel and win was really amazing,” Bach said. “It was pretty cool because after we won, all the families got to come on the ice and we got to share that moment with them, which is something that hasn’t been able to happen since before COVID.”

Someone who wasn’t able to share in the celebration was Bach’s father.

“He’s been going through some health issues so he wasn’t able to come out to Denmark to watch the world championship, which was really sad for me because he’s been my biggest supporter,” Bach said. “He’s taught me basically everything I know with hockey so I’m so grateful for him. He’s been a huge part of my career.”

Bach also paid tribute to her late grandmother, whom she visited many times as a child.

“She was she was my rock. Growing up, she always gave me the best advice,” Bach said. “I faced a lot of adversity throughout my career, always being one of the smaller players and I had people tell me ‘You’re never going to make it anywhere in hockey … you’re too small, your style of play’… and I always remember what she used to say to me: ‘You know what? All you can do is bring your effort every day and if you work hard and you’re prepared, there’s no one who can take that away from you.’

“She was someone who really inspired me and I really looked up to her.’

As an Indigenous Canadian, Bach talked about the importance of education when it comes to Canada’s rich Indigenous history.

“Being an Indigenous athlete, it’s super important that I’m ensuring that people are educated, people are becoming educated,” she said. “I’m continuing to even educate myself. I think it’s so important that we continue, even in the hockey community, to educate people about the importance of Indigenous history.”

One thing is certain, Victoria Bach is making history.

This item reprinted with permission from   Belleville Intelligencer   Toronto, Ontario
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