There is no legal body checking in women’s hockey. There are no enforcers and certainly no fighting allowed, despite recent U.S.-Canada encounters.
But there is a 48-second YouTube clip titled “Big Hit Worlds 2007” uploaded by former U.S. goalie Chanda Gunn.
The video opens with a two-on-one breakaway in the gold-medal game of the 2007 World Championships in Winnipeg. Barreling Canadian forward Gillian Apps receives the puck 10 feet from the goal, misfires, and her momentum slides into the crease and into the path of Gunn.
“Oh my, [Gunn] lost her mask, and I think she hit her head on the post,” the TSN play-by-play man says. “Gillian Apps is a handful. She’s 6 feet tall, 180 pounds. She goes to the net hard, and you’re about to see what happens if you get in her way.”
The network rolls slow-motion replay after slow-motion replay after slow-motion replay of Apps’ right elbow rising and connecting with the helmet of an unaware Gunn, who was looking 90 degrees to the right. Judgment wavers on intent with each view.
A trainer tends to Gunn, who picks herself up after 10 seconds face down on the ice.
“Gillian Apps just skating hard, just going straight to the net for a potential rebound, and, of course, doesn’t really try and stop,” the female analyst says. “I tell you, that’s got to hurt.”
Gunn was asked if it hurt.
“Not a lot, to be honest,” Gunn said in a telephone interview. “I’m just kidding.
“I’m a goalie. Getting run sucks.”
Apps wasn’t penalized. Gunn finished the game – the U.S. lost 5-1 – and, though she didn’t recall a specific diagnosis, is sure she left Manitoba with a concussion to accompany her silver medal.
It wouldn’t be the last time Apps delivered an American such a parting gift.
Apps, 30, was named to her third Canadian Olympic Team on Monday (full roster here). Canada and the U.S. will play for the sixth time in the run-up to the Olympics in St. Paul, Minn., on Saturday (4 p.m. ET, NBCSN), eight days after they brawled for the second time this fall (video here).
Physicality will be a focus. Canada has an Apps for that, but is she the bad girl of women’s hockey?
“She doesn’t necessarily play within the confines of the rules, which can be labeled as cheap,” Gunn said, choosing her words. “But I don’t think she’s a malicious player.”
Apps, of the affluent Toronto suburb of Unionville, is a two-time Olympic gold medalist, Dartmouth psychology grad and cookbook collector. Her father, Syl Jr., played 10 NHL seasons in the 1970s. Her grandfather, Syl, was a Hockey Hall of Famer, politician and sixth-place finisher in the pole vault at the 1936 Berlin Olympics.
The key stat for the family is penalty minutes. Syl had zero for the 1941-42 season (38 games) when he won the Lady Byng Trophy. The Lady Byng is bestowed to players exhibiting “sportsmanship and gentlemanly conduct combined with a high standard of fair play.”
Syl spent less than an hour in the penalty box over his 10-season career broken up by World War II – 56 minutes in 423 games.
His granddaughter played 23 games for the Brampton Thunder of the Canadian Women’s Hockey League in 2012-13, amassing 52 penalty minutes, according to the CWHL website. She led the five-team league.
She had 70 penalty minutes the season before (though the league commissioner said the 2011-12 statistics page is erroneous. It should be more than 70.). The next-highest player had 42.
She had 92 penalty minutes the season before that (and 14 in three playoff games). The next-highest player had 52.
“I prefer not to be in the penalty box,” said Apps, the tallest player on the Canadian national team who was featured in pre-2010 Olympic Nike commercials with Jarome Iginla and Dion Phaneuf swinging the slogan, “Force Fate.” “I think I’m a physical player. I’m one of the bigger players in the game. For me, it’s finding that line between using my size and making sure that I don’t end up in the box.”
Prevailing notion north of the border is Apps is a sufferer for her size. Collisions are inevitable. It doesn’t take Newton to figure the consequences when 6-0, 180, meets 5-4, 150, and who will get sent to the sin bin.
That’s just what happened March 4, 2012, when Brampton hosted the Boston Blades. Apps ran into diminutive American defenseman Caitlin Cahow. How it happened, where it happened, where the puck was and intent are matters of debate.
CWHL teams tape their games, none more vigilantly than Brampton, the league commissioner said. Mysteriously, there was no footage available of this one. Boston asked the league to review the hit for an increase in punishment – Apps had received a game misconduct – the league asked Brampton for video, and the team couldn’t provide any.
Cahow said she lost pieces of her memory. She was bedridden for weeks, off ice for months and credited Dr. Ted Carrick, Sidney Crosby’s concussion specialist, for saving her life in some ways.
“There were days I would wake up and I didn’t know if I could go for a walk, get out of bed and open my eyes,” said Cahow, who was recently named to the White House delegation to Sochi.
Yet she holds no ill will toward her rival. Other Americans aren’t as forgiving.
“Apps is not afraid to muck it up and get in your face and try and intimidate,” said retired U.S. defenseman Angela Ruggiero, now an International Olympic Committee member. “When you get a ref that doesn’t take control of the game, Apps will take control of the game.”
Teammates and opponents agree Apps is quiet on the ice. She never gets the last word.
She’s admired off of it, too, one of the most charitable players on the Canadian national team. Her dad said she’s worked junior hockey camps in the northernmost territory of Nunavut, where average January temperatures are 30 below zero. (Thankfully, these are summer camps).
“I lost my dad [to cancer] in 2007,” Canadian teammate Jayna Hefford said. “I remember getting a card from her, a physical card, which in these days you don’t always get.”
Apps’ gentlemanly grandfather passed away when she was 15, three years after she took up the sport. She was always bigger than the other girls, always adapting to her size and trying to keep from the penalty box. They rarely talked hockey when together. School came first, and she was more or less a straight-A star.
“I think he would enjoy watching her play [today],” Syl Apps Jr. said. “I’ve never seen Gillian maliciously go after somebody.”