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An unexpected journey

Susana Yuen grew up as part of a busy immigrant family in a hockey-loving home, never dreaming the Canadian game would help her connect with her Chinese heritage

Lee Boyadjian
May 13, 2021

When Susana Yuen tried out for her first hockey team at the age of 18, she didn’t even own shoulder pads. The long-time ringette player had never needed them. But there was a set in her brother’s hockey bag.

“I just kind of went to his bag and just kind of took them, I didn’t even ask him,” Yuen laughs. “And I don’t think he ever noticed!”

Six years later, not only did Yuen have her own shoulder pads, but also her own Team Canada jersey. The diminutive forward from Winnipeg made Canada’s National Women’s Team and represented her country at the inaugural IIHF World Women’s Championship in 1990.

Not only did she help Canada win gold, her 12 points tied her for second among Canadians and put her tied for sixth among all skaters in the tournament.

Despite the excitement and maybe even shock, none of her family was in Ottawa to watch. As Chinese immigrants, Yuen’s parents had a business to run made all the busier by their daughter’s success.

“People in the Chinese community were calling the restaurant to talk to my dad, to say, ‘Oh is that your Sue?’” Yuen recalls. “It was a moment of pride because it was like the whole community was rallying around me and that I was playing.”

Community – and family – has always been a big part of Yuen’s life. Though her parents encouraged her athletic endeavours, they were often too busy to help. Coaches and family friends stepped in to get Yuen where she needed to be.

From that experience came Yuen’s desire to give back to the game as a coach, though she was a little surprised when the opportunity to work with the Chinese national team presented itself, after having met the team only once on a trip to China with her sister-in-law.

“I told them I was involved with the University (of Manitoba) and we sent them an invitation to host them,” Yuen explains. “So they came here for a week and trained … and we set up some exhibition games.

“I really didn’t speak much Chinese then, but as far as the hockey aspect of it, I was able to assist them in that way.”

That was in advance of the 1997 women’s worlds in Kitchener, Ont., where China would finish fourth. It remains one of only two medal-round appearances for the country, which could be a reasonable explanation for why Yuen was then invited to return to China and work with the team full time.

Not one to live with regrets, Yuen decided it was experience she had to try, so she quit her job with the University of Manitoba and sold her truck.

“I think my dad thought I was crazy in a sense, but I told him, ‘Dad, I really want to do this, I really want to help the Chinese team. I really want to see if there’s something I can give to them to elevate their game at that level.’ So he understood why I wanted to do it and he was very supportive; both of my parents (were).”

It was an eye-opening experience for Yuen, who despite her tight family didn’t have any close Chinese friends growing up. While she embraced her family’s culture, she had never experienced it in a sustained and immersive way.

Yuen now sees similarities between her time in China, learning about her own heritage, with the experience of new immigrant families learning about Canadian culture – both experiences done through a love of the game.

“My brother lives in a new area and they don’t have a community centre, so the city comes and floods [a field],” Yuen explains. “And I couldn’t believe how many Chinese kids were out there skating and with their parents … and everybody was blending in … it was so nice to see.”

For more information:

Esther Madziya
Manager, Communications
Hockey Canada

(403) 284-6484 

Spencer Sharkey
Manager, Communications
Hockey Canada

(403) 777-4567

Jeremy Knight
Manager, Corporate Communications
Hockey Canada

(647) 251-9738

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