Olympian Abby Roque’s warm smile beamed bright alongside her silver medal and new key to the city over a weekend of catching up with old friends, coaching youth hockey camp, posing for pictures and signing autographs.
Roque even received a sign of her own, soon to hang over the city limit border along I-75 Business Spur: "Home of USA Women's Hockey Olympian Abby Roque."
“Most of these people, I have known my whole life,” said Roque, home in Sault Ste. Marie Mich. for the first time since the 2022 Beijing Olympics. “When they are trying to get pictures with me, I am like, ‘We have plenty of pictures together.’”
But none of their Team USA Olympic jerseys hang in the Pullar Stadium.
Judging from the large welcome home gathering at DreamMakers Theatre of Kewadin Casino at 6 p.m. on Saturday, there is certainly a reason posters and sports cards have circulated through the city and neighboring towns.
Mayor Don Gerrie publicly congratulated and recognized Roque on behalf of Sault Ste. Marie.
“I don’t think there was an open window in an office, store or government building that didn’t have your name on it,” Gerrie told Abby in front of fans, friends and family. “Thank you for giving our community someone to rally behind, for giving young people a role model.”
He read the city’s proclamation to highlight some of Roque’s many stellar accomplishments.
The area's very own Olympian graduated from Sault Area High School in 2016, having played four years for the Blue Devils’ varsity team. She signed on with the Wisconsin Badgers and with the US Women’s National Team.
Roque participated in the 2021 IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship, before competing for Team USA in the 2022 Beijing Olympics.
Roque became the first Indigenous woman to play on the USA women's national ice hockey team. She currently plays for the Minnesota Region of the Professional Women's Hockey Players Association (PWHPA).
“On behalf of the city commission and citizens of the city of Sault Ste. Marie, we would like to extend our congratulations to Abby for all her achievements, and all of her accomplishments to come,” Gerrie said upon affixing the city seal.
The Mayor then handed Roque a key to the city. She is now the third person to hold a key, joining Gene Simmons of KISS and former Red Wing head coach Jeff Blashill.
“Thank you to the whole city, all the citizens, and everybody for rallying behind me,” said Roque. “Obviously, in China, we weren’t allowed to have family or friends over there. To get on my phone and see all the amazing things people were doing, Roque shots and all the different things at the bars...”
Roque felt love and support all the way from China.
One of Roque’s greatest all-time supporters took to the stage, John Ferroni, former head coach of Sault Ste. Marie’s hockey program.
“It wasn’t just blessed to you,” said Ferroni. “You grinded that out to the point where hard work, determination and passion got you that moment. We are all happy that you have accomplished all those things but we are proud of you and I am so proud of the person you became.”
Ferroni recognized Roque for representing the city with great pose. He commended her for mentoring young hockey players, giving them the courage to follow their dreams.
Roque hosted boys and girls hockey camps at the Big Bear Arena on Friday, May 13, Saturday, May 14 and Sunday May 15.
Kids were split into two age groups, one for ages 6 to 9 and one for ages 10 to 13. A clan of girls seated together in hockey jerseys had a lot to say about teh three-day camp.
“It was amazing and a lot of fun,” said Aliyah Shalom, 11. “It kind of helps with skills. I just kind of worked on the stuff I was weak at, or not as good at."
Shalom improved on stick handling, passing and shooting. Friend Piper Grabowski, 13, worked on perfecting similar skills.
Seated beside them was left/right wing Jersey Lassila, 11. She enjoyed learning to make tighter turns on the ice.
Others simply appreciated the coaching and camaraderie of the sport.
“I love seeing my friends all the time, and meeting new people,” said Zoey, who improved crossover techniques.
Hockey mother to three of the girls, Kamma Grabowski, was also eager to speak on the camp. She admitted it was very hard to just sit back and watch her daughters skate on the ice.
“We weren’t supposed to say anything to them,” Grabowski said about wanting to cheer loudly. “It was nice watching a variety of kids do cone drills. Watching these kids skate at their age, being able to skate backward, forward and jump. They were jumping on their skates. I can’t do any of that.”
The girls said they learned a lot and had fun at hockey camp.
The kids are awesome,” said Roque. “They are so enthusiastic and have so much fun. It’s great to see kids smile and have fun. They are so happy to see me and excited. It’s, honestly, a little weird. I am like, ‘Are they really that happy to see me?’”
Roque left some advice for her young fans and inspiring hockey players.
“Don’t get down on yourself if you aren’t the best player on the team,” said Roque. “You can easily become the best player on the team. Just work hard and have fun. If you’re not having fun, it’s not worth it. Make sure you are doing it with a smile on your face.”
Last day of camp is today. Then, Roque will head out to prepare for ice hockey training of her own.
She extended special thanks out to the team at Sault Area Convention & Visitors Bureau, especially to Director Linda Hoath for putting on a homecoming to remember.
Roque said she would like to fly back and forth more frequently. Aferall, she now holds the key to Sault Ste. Marie.