Canadian gold medalist Claire Thompson inspires the next generation of skaters at Summit Youth Hockey practice

Claire Thompson, a 2022 Olympic gold medalist and defenseman for Canada’s women’s hockey team, poses for a group photo with Summit Youth Hockey players and coach Emily Carlson. The group participated in a special stick-and-puck session at Stephen C. West Ice Arena in Breckenridge on Tuesday, March 29.
John Hanson/Courtesy photo

There are moments in a child’s upbringing that will be etched in their memory forever. These key moments usually revolve around a significant time in their life, like learning to ride a bike for the first time or sharing an endearing moment with a loved one. For others, the core memories can revolve around a significant event, such as receiving a game ball at a sporting event or meeting someone famous.

Members of the Summit Youth Hockey program had a chance to form their own lifelong memories Tuesday, March 29, when Claire Thompson of Canada’s 2022 Olympic gold-medal-winning hockey team graced the ice alongside them at Stephen C. West Ice Arena in Breckenridge for a special practice.

Thompson made her debut for Canada’s national team in 2019. During her tenure, the Canadians won two gold medals, one at the 2022 Olympics and another at the 2021 World Championships.

Thompson played defense at the Olympic games, helping her team defeat the U.S., 3-2. During the games in Beijing, Thompson broke an Olympic record by scoring 13 points as a defensive player.

Thompson was invited to visit Summit Youth Hockey’s practice by her father’s friend, Randy Conley, who lives in Breckenridge and is involved in the Summit Youth Hockey program.

The boys and girls who make up the Summit Youth Hockey program were aware that Thompson was coming to practice Tuesday, but that did not dampen their reactions. Thompson was met with bright eyes and excited faces.

Thompson skated alongside the team of Summit Youth Hockey players and gave them pointers as they practiced classic hockey drills.

“It was awesome. She immediately learned all of their names, which means a lot to kids that young,” said Emily Carlson, an alumna of the Summit Youth Hockey program who helped run the practice. “She really connected with them, asked them about their seasons. It was really cute.”

Olympic women’s hockey gold medalist Claire Thompson chats with Anya Krajnikovic during a special stick-and-puck session for members of the Summit Youth Hockey program at Stephen C. West Ice Arena in Breckenridge on Tuesday, March 29.
John Hanson/Courtesy photo

The hands-on event made an impact on everyone, Carlson said. Thompson even allowed the young athletes to hold her hefty Olympic gold medal and get autographs.

“They were really excited to see a real life gold medal,” Carlson said. “They got to see that there is a real human behind it, and it helped to humanize the people they are seeing on TV.”

The experience was especially remarkable to the girls on the team, their coach said.

“It is important for them to see that they can be hockey players,” Carlson said. “We can go to (Colorado Avalanche) games, we can go to (Denver University) games, we can go to (Colorado College) games, but there really isn’t any high-level women’s hockey around here. So just to have that visibility means a lot.”

Carlson said the reaction from the girls was so pure.

Thompson eagerly answered a flurry of questions, which ranged from how the medal made it through airport security to what life looks like as a professional hockey player.

U12 team manager Meg Caldwell said the best reaction of the day was when her daughter, Killoren, saw Thompson upon exiting the locker room.

“The minute Claire walked into the room and Killoren came out of the locker room, she asked when Claire was going to get there. I pointed to her on the ice. Her face just lit up with this big smile,” Caldwell said.

Caldwell said Killoren enjoyed the ice time with Thompson and the gifts she received: a puck along with signed action shots of the Olympic gold medalist.

After practice, Killoren didn’t go inside to rest after her extended time on the ice. Rather, she immediately started practicing her shooting on her home net, eager to carve her way to gold medals and national titles like her hockey hero.

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