Teammates Leah Bohlken and Jessica Vance competed as part of Team Canada at the 2019 Winter Universiade, the largest university winter multi-sport competition in the world. The two Huskies spoke to the Sheaf about their journey to the final game of the competition.
For defenceman Leah Bohlken, fourth-year computer-science student, and goaltender Jessica Vance, third-year kinesiology student, the Winter Universiade was their first time representing Canada at a competition. Bohlken says the experience was exciting even before the games started.
“[I felt] excited, nervous, anxious, thrilled… That’s the first time you are wearing the maple leaf, and you want to make everyone proud,” Bohlken said. “I looked in the mirror and [thought], ‘Little Leah wanted to wear this jersey.’”
The two players didn’t practice with their teammates prior to travelling to Russia, but Vance says Team Canada came together quickly after their first meeting.
“We met everyone at the Toronto airport, and then, we travelled to Russia together,” Vance said. “It was just one of those tournaments where everyone has to buy in and come together quickly.”
As soon as the competition began, Canada started winning. Their first four games were victories against China, Japan, the United States and Switzerland. Bohlken says a standout moment was the 1-0 win against the United States because of the hockey rivalry between the two countries.
“To play against them, it’s like you are playing in that rivalry. You are wearing the Canadian jersey, and they are wearing the USA one. And we beat them 1-0 with seconds left,” Bohlken said. “That was a team-builder.”
Team Canada’s first defeat was their 4-2 loss against the Russian Federation. Despite the results, Bohlken says the match prepared the team for their eventual final game against Russia.
“It was an encouraging game — even though the score doesn’t look it. We competed for the whole game,” Bohlken said. “And we knew what to expect going into the gold-medal game.”
For the final game against Russia on March 11, the arena was sold out — full of fans cheering on the hosts. Bohlken says that the game was an unforgettable experience and that the pro-Russia crowd only served to motivate her more.
“In that game, as soon as Russia would touch the puck, you could feel it — the cheering and the sounds. You see those games on TV, but to actually play in one, … that’s one experience that’s going to stay with me for the rest of my life,” Bohlken said. “Hearing them cheering for Russia just made me want to stop them more, so they wouldn’t cheer anymore. It was a lot of fun.”
The final game was a close match. The game ended 2-0, but the first two periods of the game were played with a 0-0 score. Even though Team Canada did not win the gold, the Huskies players think the game was contested enough that it could have gone differently. This is Canada’s third consecutive Universiade silver medal.
Looking back on the whole experience, Vance says that the best part was representing Canada and gaining skills to bring back to her Huskies team.
“Playing in those big games, [I learned] how to manage my nerves. With the Huskies, I think there should be some big games that we’ll play in the future, so I think that bringing that back, I [can use] that experience,” Vance said. “And being able to say that you got to represent your country in something is pretty amazing.”
Ana Cristina Camacho / Staff Writer
Photo: Jessica Vance / Supplied