As a 10-year-old rink rat at the Clarence “Taffy” Abel Arena on the campus of Lake Superior State University, Abby Roque had no idea about the history and legacy of fellow Sault Ste. Marie, Mich., native and the namesake of the building where she spent her formative hockey playing years.
Nearly 100 years apart, the legacies of Abel, the first Native American Olympic hockey player in 1924, and Roque, who became the first female Native American to play for the U.S. Women’s Olympic Team in 2022, would forever be entwined in U.S. Olympic hockey history.
“I knew who ‘Taffy’ Abel was because of a plaque that was on the wall of the rink where my dad coached and I played as a child,” Roque recalled. “I did not know about his Native American heritage until the Olympics. It’s so cool that I grew up on that rink and had no idea about what exactly he accomplished, and to find out that we both played in Sault Ste. Marie, and both were on Olympic teams as ‘firsts.’”
Few Native Americans have donned the Team USA sweater on Olympic hockey ice, but those who have represent a proud and storied history passed on from Abel, the Olympic flag bearer at the 1924 Olympic opening ceremony in Chamonix, France. He was also the captain of the silver medal-winning team, and a member of the Chippewa Indian Sault First Nation, often known today as the Soo Tribe.
In 1972, Henry Boucha, a Warroad, Minn. native and member of the Ojibwe Tribe, was a leader on the U.S. hockey team that won an unexpected silver medal in Sapporo, Japan. The 2014 Olympic Winter Games saw Boucha’scousin and Ojibwe Tribe member also from Warroad, T.J. Oshie, star for Team USA in Sochi, Russia. And Roque, who was an integral part of her team’s silver medal success in Beijing, China in 2022 and a member of the Wahnapitae First Nation that is part of the Ojibwe First Nation.
Boucha, the former Detroit Red Wing and Minnesota North Star, passed away this past September. Boucha explained last year that players like Roque and Oshie understand the importance of their heritage beyond the ice rinks and NHL arenas.
“After hockey I tried to make everyone proud,” Boucha said. “I worked in Indian Education with the Warroad Public Schools and used it as a platform to encourage others to get their education and play sports because of the disciplinary way of life.”
Roque absolutely understands the message and is busy promoting her Native American heritage through Team USA, the Olympics and the sport she loves. She has started a hockey school in her hometown of Sault Ste. Marie and encourages boys and girls from the heavily-populated Native American county to participate as she has.
“The camp is all about inclusivity and just having fun playing hockey,” the 2022 Olympic silver medalist said. “My main hope is that little Native American boys and girls from anywhere can play hockey, watch and fall in love with the sport. That’s the hope.”
Tom & Jerry Caraccioli are the authors of STRIKING SILVER: The Untold Story of America’s Forgotten Hockey Team. (This article originally ran in the November 2022 issue of USA Hockey Magazine)
National Native American Heritage Month is observed in November and calls attention to the culture, traditions, and achievements of the nation's original inhabitants and of their descendants. To learn more about Native American Heritage Month visit www.nativeamericanheritagemonth.gov