UM-Duluth forward Jessica Wong, 49, is mobbed by teammates at center after she redirected a shot from Tara Gray, 13, at rear-right to win the NCAA Women’s Hockey National Championship by defeating Cornell University 3-2 in the 3rd overtime on March 21, 2010 at Aldrich Arena in Minneapolis. Teammate Emmanuelle Blais, 47, is jumping at left, while Katherine Wilson, 9, and Mariia Posa, 8, join in with hugging Wong. (Photo courtesy of UMD)
BY TOM LAVENTURE
AAP staff writer
Duluth, Minn. (March 26, 2010) – Jessica Wong emerged from freshman anonymity to become a school hero on March 21, when she scored the game-winning goal to make the University of Minnesota at Duluth the 2010 Women’s Hockey National Champions of the National Collegiate Athletic Association tournament.It was an amazing victory in that it was not expected. Several of UMD’s top scoring juniors and seniors were away to represent national teams of Canada, Sweden, Finland and Russia in the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver. This placed the responsibility on the younger players that responded with capable determination.
“Coach Miller has said since the first day I got here in Duluth, that all the freshman are going to have to play like sophomores and juniors,” said Wong. “She helped us out and every day we learned something new.
“I think that without her help we would not be where we are at now,” she added. “I just think that since we had such a young team, we just believed and we worked really hard everyday and I think that is how it happened.”
To reach the tournament UMD won quarterfinal matches against North Dakota, semifinal matches with Bemidji State, and the University of Minnesota – Twin Cities, before defeating the U of M again in the Frozen Four Semifinal quarterfinal on March 7th.
Wong, a 5’ 7” forward who wears number 49, scored an unassisted goal and assisted in the game winner in a 3-2 victory. She scored the game-winning goal against the University of New Hampshire in the March 13 semifinal.
It was during the during the March 21st championship against Cornell that Wong redirected a shot from teammate Tara Gray with less than a minute left in the third overtime – sending the puck past Cornell goaltender Amanda Mazzotta who had set NCAA records for the most saves in post-season play.
Wong was named to the 2010 NCAA Frozen Four All-Tournament Team for her efforts.
Coach Miller described Wong as a committed student and a passionate player.
“She brings a smile, good skills and a great attitude each day to practice which makes her a better game player each week,” said Coach Miller. “Jess has progressed quickly into a dominant college player at the Division I level.”
The young team got off to a slow start this season, but Wong said they were learning new things. Coach Miller never lost faith in them and they never gave up. After winter break she said the team worked even harder and was a new team by the time they reached the Frozen Four.
“I think we picked it up and worked really, really hard in practice,” said Wong. “We learned more things and it just all worked out for us. We believed in ourselves and it all came together.”
Wong said she gets teased a little by fans that greet the team in the community. They joke with her saying, ‘Wong, you need to shoot more.’
“I think I overpass sometimes, but it’s just how I play.” She added. “I see the ice well and I just like to feed the puck to other people I guess.”
Born Jessica Louise Wong on March 29, 1991 in Sydney, Nova Scotia and now makes her home in nearby Baddeck. Her parents, Alex and Wendy Wong, were also born in Nova Scotia to Chinese immigrant grandparents from Canton, China.
There is not a big Chinese community in Nova Scotia, but Wong said her father loved the sport that so popular in the town of about 900 people. He was said to be quite a hockey player in his youth, and it was often on television and the topic of conversation growing up with her elder siblings Mitchell and Samantha.
“Growing up I watched my brother play when I was little and I wanted to do what he was doing, and luckily I picked the right sport I guess,” said Wong. “That is how I basically started.”
She said her parents have always been very supportive of her decision to pursue elite hockey opportunities, which have required long stays at schools in cities around Canada.
“My parents never forced anything on me and I wanted to get better and better because I loved it so much,” she said. “When I was little my parents would drive all over Nova Scotia for camps and games.”
Wong graduated from Baddeck Academy in 2009, but she attended other schools also while playing hockey for the Stoney Creek Sabres Club near Hamilton, Ontario, where the team won the gold medal at both the OWHA Provincials and PWHL Championship in 2008.
She played for Team Nova Scotia and won the gold medal at the 2007 Atlantic Challenge Cup at Dieppe, New Brunswick. She also was named the 2006-07 Team MVP of the Warner Warriors in Alberta, where she led the team in scoring with 70 points (36 goals and 34 assists.)
Now a member of Canada’s U-22 Team (under age 22), Wong was also a pivotal player on Canada’s U-18 national team that won the silver medal at the 2008 U-18 IIHF World Championships. Her best friend and former teammate Marie-Philip Poulin of Quebec played on the 2010 Canadian Women’s Olympic team.
“It’s always been a goal for me; it’s always been a dream,” said Wong. “So hopefully, maybe the next Olympics I will be able to achieve that goal. I can probably speak on behalf of a lot of the players to say that it is probably one of the dreams of all of the girls to play in the Olympics at some point in their career.”
Wong said she chose UMD in part because it is a small school and that the city reminds her of Nova Scotia. She also wanted to play for Coach Miller because she had heard so many good things. UMD now has five NCAA National Championships in Women’s Hockey since 2001.
“I am glad that I made the right decision,” said Wong. “The fans are great here in Duluth. They really support us and it’s awesome.”
Wong said Americans schools don’t play as many games a year as in Canada but that they do get more ice time every day for practice. She said American schools have a good reputation for attracting players from Europe and Canada and a chance to learn different styles of play.
“A big difference with the European players is that they have very good hands and shoot very well,” said Wong. “There are a lot of good goalies from Europe. Everything else is pretty much the same, at least to me anyway.”
Some of her role models are hockey players like three time Canadian Women Olympians Jayna Hefford, Danielle Goyette and Caroline Ouellette – a former UMD player. She said there were many girls out there that she looked up to and that she would want little girls and guys out there to work hard to get where they want to get.
“I know when I was younger I had a lot of role models and most of them were people who supported me like my parents,” she said. “They had a lot into what I did, and if I didn’t have them I wouldn’t be where I am today.”
She is also a fan of men’s hockey, and fellow Nova Scotia native, Sidney Patrick Crosby, who at 19 became the youngest team captain in 2007 for the Pittsburgh Penguins of the National Hockey League.
“He’s awesome and especially because he’s from Nova Scotia so that’s even better.”
Wong said that she is in school to get her elementary and middle school teaching major at UMD, but that hockey is something that she would pursue for as long as she can. For right now she can try to live in the moment and have fun playing hockey for the next three years.
Its pretty safe to say that other schools will play hard against UMD team next season, and make it a real challenge to repeat again as champions. Wong said they know that they won it and will have to work hard to get a chance to get there again.
“That is something that every team will aim for every season,” she said. “We have got to start from scratch and hopefully we can have another repeat.”