POTSDAM, NEW YORK – From the second Team Canada and Team Japan hit the ice for warmups; it was evident the game had a special flicker for Japan’s Chihiro Zuzuki and Canada’s Hannah Tait.
Teammates with the OUA’s Guelph Gryphons, the two earned spots on their national teams for the Lake Placid 2023 FISU World University Games and instantly circled their group play clash on the schedule.
“It’s definitely exciting seeing a familiar face out there,” Tait told 49 Sports. “Obviously, it’s a bit weird because we’re so used to playing together, so it’s funny seeing her out there on the other team, but it was a ton of fun.”
Lining up against each other for the opening faceoff, the two gave each other a smile and a pat before switching their friendship off for a couple of hours. Canada and Japan looked to remain perfect in the women’s hockey tournament after winning their first two games.
Team Canada beat Japan 6-0, giving them nine points through three games and the top spot in the standings, while Japan dropped to 2-1-0, still keeping their medal-round hopes alive at the midway point of group play.
Playing top-line minutes, Suzuki and Japan began the game with hard forechecks, forcing Canada to keep pace before taking the game over themselves, finding their breakthrough just four minutes into the game when UNB’s Jenna MacLean took a ricocheted shot off a defender before Concordia’s Rosalie Begin-Cyr fired home on Canada’s third shot of the day.
Canada padded their lead with a four-goal second period, with Bishop’s Marie-Camille Theoret, StFX’s Maggy Burbidge and Montreal’s Audrey-Anne Veillette finding the back of the net.
SMU’s Shae Demale scored in the final minute to cap off Canada’s afternoon and 6-0 win.
For Suzuki, the game meant a lot more than just a game against Canada — she knows every opponent on the Canadian team and was getting a chance to play for her nation. Yet the national team nomination came from out of nowhere.
Born in Yokohama, the third-year Psychology student-athlete attended Japan’s national team camp in the summer but hasn’t had any other involvement with the program.
“I found out that I was on the longlist, and that was a bit of a shock, and then next thing you know, I’m on the team,” she said. “All they saw of me was the summer camp in June, but I guess that was enough.”
Meanwhile, for Tait, it wasn’t until mid-November that she first heard of the possibility of playing for Canada, having impressed as a dynamic player with the Gryphons and having Guelph assistant coach Katie Mora among the Canadian coaching staff for Lake Placid 2023.
When she found out, the first call was to Suzuki, and quickly highlighted Monday’s matchup on her calendar. “I think our teammates marked it on theirs as well,” she chuckled.
Although the two are missing games with the Gryphons to represent their nations, it hasn’t stopped them from following their OUA teammates, who have gone on to beat the Laurier Golden Hawks and Brock Badgers despite their absence.
“We knew that they could do it without us, and they’re killing it out there,” Tait said. “They’re killing it out there, and we’ve been cheering them on, watching the live streams, and keeping in touch with them. We’re excited to get back, but we have a job to do here.”
Indeed, the two have kept tabs on the Gryphons. Still, despite seeing each other around the athlete accommodations and supporting each other at the FISU games, there’s yet to be a Guelph Gryphons watch party.
“I’ve gone to watch here whenever I can, and she’s come out to watch me whenever she can, so we’re super excited to be here together,” Tait said. “We haven’t watched a [Guelph] game together yet, but we’ll see.”
While Canada captured the win and secured a perfect nine points to top the group ahead of their final preliminary games against Great Britain and the United States, Japan is still in medal contention, leaving the potential for a Guelph-filled gold medal game at Lake Placid’s Herb Brroks Arena.
“I might be a bit less giggly that game if there’s a medal on the line,” Suzuki said.