If you had asked her four years ago, Lucie Kloak probably wouldn’t have guessed that in college she would the only girl on the UNC club hockey team. Back then, she thought maybe she might be able to go to one of the big schools for women’s ice hockey: Wisconsin, Minnesota, somewhere up north. She knew it was competitive, of course, but she hoped she’d be able to make it.
Kloak picked up rowing in the offseason using machines at the gym as part of her training regimen. To her surprise, after her first rowing competition, she started getting scouted by big name schools. She chose UNC for the academics as well as the athletics, and there, she rowed for two years before injuries led to doctors recommending this past fall that she stop. So she started playing hockey again.
Kloak was born in California, but grew up in Ridgewood, New Jersey. She played midget and peewee hockey with boys until she transferred to the Tier 1 girls’ hockey program with the New Jersey Colonials, where she was coached by Shelley Looney, the player who scored the gold medal-winning goal against the Canadians at the 1998 Olympics. The Colonials went to the USA Hockey National Championships three years in a row, from 08-10. During high school, she also played for the Ridgewood Maroons as one of two girls in the lineup.
So she knew what she was getting into when she walked onto the Tar Heels, an ACHA Division II team. Kloak says that at first they didn’t take her seriously because they’d had joke try-outs from girls before. But they soon realized she meant business.
Kloak is a tough player. At 6’2″, she’s taller than some of her teammates, and she describes herself as a defenseman who loves hitting. She first came to our attention when someone tweeted out that she punched someone during a game against their rivals, NC State:
When talking about the incident, Kloak is completely unapologetic. “There were like 400, 500 State fans there, and they hate Carolina,” she says. “Even from the moment when I was walking in, I was getting shit…So I was already really pissed off.” When one of the NC State players hit her and she stumbled back, she says he gave her a look that infuriated her so much that she punched him. “It was worth it,” she says, laughing.
And what of her teammates? How did they react to having a girl join their team? “They took a little while to warm up to me,” Kloak admits. “I think they were really weirded out at the beginning, is what they told me. They didn’t know what to expect, but they told me, ‘You not being awkward or being weird about it made it all better.'”
Unlike at northern schools, the hockey team isn’t the big dog on campus, and Kloak says that before joining the team, she had never seen any of the players before. Now, she says, they’re all friends. They go out as a team, including taking advantage of the $10 student tickets to Carolina Hurricanes games. She seems to have made it her mission to introduce her new teammates to the rest of UNC. “I think now they just treat me like one of them, which is totally what I wanted,” she says.
Kloak grew up a Bruins fan, thanks to her mom, but since moving to North Carolina, she’s become a Hurricanes fan as well. She credits the Hurricanes’ proximity with giving the community more of a hockey culture than she might have expected, and she likes that UNC is such a short drive away, which is a perk she might not have had if she had gone somewhere else for college.
For the Hurricanes, her favorite players are Brett Bellemore and Zach Boychuk, but in the NHL overall, she looks up to Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews. She appreciates that Kane is aggressive despite his size (“I know 5’9″ isn’t that small, but to me he’s super short,” she says), and she thinks Jonathan Toews is one of the best “under-the-radar” players who doesn’t necessarily have the biggest numbers but is instrumental in setting up plays. As for the women’s game, Kloak says her best friend is 2014 Olympian Josephine Pucci, who she played with in middle and high school, and that she looks up to her former coach Shelley Looney.
Kloak says she owes everything to hockey, and that it’s taken her through so many things in life. It’s led her, albeit indirectly, to where she is today, an example of how women athletes can make space for themselves outside the typical realms of women’s sports. Her advice to any girls who want to play hockey, especially on a boys’ team, is “be yourself…As long as you’re doing something that you love and you enjoy what you’re doing, it doesn’t matter what anyone thinks.”