GILLIAN APPS, ICE HOCKEY
WOMEN’S PRELIMINARY ROUND VS. SWITZERLAND: FEB. 8, 17:00 EST
At five foot eleven and a half, and a hundred and seventy-two pounds, Gillian Apps is a force to be reckoned with — both on and off the ice. A third-generation hockey prodigy, Apps is heading to Sochi this month to compete in her third consecutive Olympic Games with the hopes of bringing home yet another gold medal.
I get a call from Apps three weeks after the Canadian national women’s team was thrown into the headlines by the departure of head coach, Dan Church. With former NHL coach Kevin Dineen stepping in as coach, the team has since had a number of disappointing defeats sparking concern from Canadian fans.
Despite the media frenzy, Apps’s voice is all confidence when I speak to her over the phone in Calgary. At age 30 she is one of the veterans on the team and has been playing at a professional level since she was 18.
“I’m pretty laid-back,” she tells me after a warm-up skate before a game later that night against the Medicine Hat SEAC Tigers (a game that Apps’s team lost 2-4).
Her voice sounds focused; there’s no mention of the last-minute coach swap or any hint of concern regarding the upcoming Games. Apps explains, “I try to keep my routine the same no matter what’s going on or where I’m playing. What I do before a game in Calgary is the same thing I do before a game in the Olympics.”
Apps grew up near Toogood Pond in Markham, walking distance to William Berczy Public School where she attended kindergarten through Grade 8. Athletics was second nature in her home where her father, former NHLer Syl Apps Jr., spent 10 years playing for the New York Rangers, Pittsburgh Penguins and Los Angeles Kings. Her grandfather, Syl Apps Sr., was an Olympic pole vaulter (placing sixth in Berlin), as well as a Hockey Hall of Fame inductee who played 12 years with the Toronto Maple Leafs. Gillian Apps’s Olympics jersey will carry the number 10, her grandfather’s number — a tribute to the man who passed away just after she turned 15.
Despite the strong hockey influence at home, Apps didn’t start playing the game until age 12 after warming up on the ice with ringette. The popular girls’ sport is similar to hockey but swaps out a traditional hockey stick and puck for a straight stick and ring. Once she mastered ringette, she moved on to hockey, playing on a house league team in neighbouring Stouffville. High school brought her into the city where she played with Havergal College in the Conference of Independent Schools Athletic Association of Girls (CISAA-G) program. “I just kind of fell in love with the game,” Apps says of her move over to hockey.
Her ambition (and some impressive skills on the ice) had her fast-track her last year at Havergal to be picked up by the Canadian national women’s hockey team in 2001 as the youngest recruit. The team was revving up for the 2002 Winter Games in Salt Lake City and needed some new blood. Though Apps didn’t make the selection for the Olympics that year, she would go on to win two gold medals with the team at the Turin and Vancouver Games in 2006 and 2010. In the meantime, she headed stateside to Dartmouth College in New Hampshire to complete her degree in psychology and rack up some ice time with Dartmouth’s Big Green women’s ice hockey team. Over her four-season tenure, she scored an impressive 90 goals and 68 assists over 113 games. Apps currently plays on a local CWHL team and has played in eight straight IIHF women’s world championships helping Canada bring home three gold and five silver medals.
With just under a month to go before Sochi, Apps sounds excited at the prospect of heading into her third Games.
“I’m really looking forward to getting over to Russia,” she notes. Though she remains focused on the game, she admits, “I really just want to go and enjoy the experience of the opening ceremony and being in the village with athletes from around the world.”
Canada’s women’s team will have a lot to prove this year, as the two-time defending gold medallists. With a track record of 14 points in Turin and seven in Vancouver, Apps is undoubtedly one of the strongest players on the team, but she’s also older now and aware that her days of playing in the Olympics are numbered.
When we discuss growing up in Markham, her voice relaxes a bit, and I get a glimpse of the girl behind skates and medals. She tells me how she likes heading home when she’s back in the GTA — particularly to Unionville’s main drag, Main Street, to grab lunch at places like the Arms.
“They have a really great chicken souvlaki with Greek salad,” she remarks with a laugh. “I mean, it’s just a pub, so you know you’re always going to have a good time.”
Despite the relative fame Apps has gained over the years, she stays grounded remembering where she came from. “It’s just a really nice area, you know. Not too small and not too big.”
With her no-nonsense attitude, dedication to the game and a golden history, chances are Apps will be bringing home her Olympic gold hat trick.
Take a break from shopping and watch all the action as Canada's athletes compete for Gold! Visit Promenade's CBC Olympic viewing lounge from Feb. 7-23rd in Centre Court. Go Canada!