NEW YORK -- Julie Chu and her mother, Miriam, were sitting on a stage in Manhattan last month. They had just watched a short video about how their relationship was the bedrock of an ice hockey career that has led from Harvard to the Winter Olympics.
It was a touching moment as Julie, now training for her fourth Olympic Games, reached over and squeezed her mom's hand, offering a smile of reassurance.
Miriam was the woman who put a hockey stick in her daughter's hand knowing she would be the only player with a ponytail on ice. At the time, women's hockey wasn't an Olympic sport, but now Julie is a frequently visits rinks to speak to young players on all-girl teams.
"Right now in the U.S., there is nearly 70,000 girls and women hockey players, and that number really exploded and escalated after the 1998 Olympic Games," Chu said. "You can see the trend, if there was some kind of bell curve literally it's a straight line up. And that's what I think the Olympic movement has done for the sport of women's ice hockey."
At the time, a girl's only opportunity to learn the game was by joining a boys' team. Now, girls in many areas have a choice, and it's not a no-brainer for parents.
"A lot of parents ask us, should they play boys or girls hockey?" Chu said. "And my take is it depends on each kid. And what I mean by that is, in what environment is your daughter going to love hockey, be successful and also be challenged a bit to grow? And that might be a boys team and that might be a girls team, and I think that figuring that out is the most important thing."
That said, Chu is a huge advocate of women's sports, and not just hockey. She would like to see women's sports become much more visible, and sees that challenge as a personal responsibility. If ratings are considered low for a women's sports event, Chu tried to help where she can, by turning on the TV or buying a ticket.
"As girls and hockey fans, we have to be our biggest fans and advocates," Chu said. "I always make it a point if there's a national championship going on or if there's a big women event going on that's broadcast, I'm making an effort to watch it."
The women's national team now stands at 25 players, but the team will be trimmed to a final Sochi roster of 21 on Jan. 1. Chu said the team wants to bring gold back to the United States.
"We want to win gold," Chu said. "[The 1998 Nagano Games were] the first and last time we got an opportunity to win gold for women's ice hockey, so it's been many years and it's time for us to step up and perform in the end, to win and be the best in the world."