Apperson reflects on Universiade experience

Although the gold medal game didn’t end the way she hoped, Kelty Apperson holds fond memories of her experience with Team Canada at the 2017 Winter Universiade.

After more than two weeks overseas, the Tommies women’s hockey captain returned to Fredericton from Almaty, Kazakhstan early on Thursday, Feb. 9. Just in time for St. Thomas University’s last two regular season games.

“The experience was amazing,” said Apperson. “The gold medal game was fun to be part of, and it was an honour.”

Apperson, 22, had the lone goal for Canada in a 4-1 loss to Russia in the women’s hockey final on Monday, Feb. 6.

The prolific fifth-year winger scored 11 minutes into the second period on an odd-man rush alongside forward Jaycee Magwood of the University of Regina Cougars. She took a pass from Magwood and flicked the puck past Russian goalie Maria Sorokina’s glove.

The 2017 loss was the second straight time Canada has fallen to Russia in the women’s hockey championship.

“Leaving with silver wasn’t what we wanted, but it’s a great accomplishment,” said Apperson, who is five-foot-nine and weighs 150 pounds.

“We achieved a lot of what we wanted to do, and we saw a lot of things, interacted with a lot of people and bonded as a team.”

As for the final contest, Apperson said Canada’s downfall was its failure to score on 14 power plays. Despite doing well to match Russia’s skill for the most part, they faced a versatile and experienced squad.

“Russia outworked us to the puck,” she said.

“We weren’t putting pucks in the net, but we still played with all our hearts and we fought to the last buzzer.”

Apperson, who is soft-spoken, but articulate, had seven points (four goals, three assists) in five games.

On the scoresheet, the native of Kingston, Ont., had a solid tournament. But her offensive production isn’t the main thing she’ll remember from playing on the biggest stage of her life.

“I’m more likely to cherish the entire experience of the tournament itself and the games we played as a team and the wins we had,” said Apperson, whose smile can light up a room.

Apperson wasn’t the only one representing the Atlantic University Sport conference in central Asia. The other AUS player on the national women’s hockey team was forward Daley Oddy from the St. Francis Xavier University X-Women.

Apperson said playing with (and against, in Oddy’s case) all but two of her national teammates before the Universiade at a Hockey Canada development camp in August 2016 in Calgary, Alta., helped with chemistry.

“It was a lot of fun,” said Apperson. “We tried some different things we wouldn’t be trying on our club teams.”

Throughout the tournament, Apperson was also among three alternate captains on Team Canada.

“It was humbling,” she said. “It was fun to be part of the leadership group and not only work on my skills, but learn to work with different people and how to interact with them.”

She even had her mother, Maureen Long, in the crowd for all but one of Canada’s games.

“She sat in the same spot every time, so it was nice to look up and see her whenever I skated by. She had a big smile and it made me proud. It was so awesome to share that experience with her.”

Apperson’s time at the biennial, Olympic-style event didn’t just involve serious competition. On Jan. 27, she and some fellow Canadian hockey players joined Shawn Steil, Canada’s ambassador to Kazakhstan, for a skills clinic and friendly shinny game with several local children.

The shinny game took place on an outdoor rink built by an Almaty resident.

Apperson also learned that she and Steil’s wife share a STU connection, as Steil’s wife is friends with English professor Robin Whittaker and his family.

“[Steil] is a super nice guy who was all about promoting hockey,” said Apperson.

“I don’t know how many thousand photos I took that day [of the shinny match] and the things we signed and gifts I received. They kept giving me chocolate and flags and stuff and the kids saw us all as celebrities.”

Conversing with her shinny opponents was next to impossible with the language barrier, Apperson said, but they got by with the common knowledge they share as hockey players.

As well, Apperson got to try horsemeat, take advantage of a weak Kazak tenge compared to Canada’s dollar, enjoy opening and closing ceremonies and go sightseeing with her teammates.

She and the other competitors stayed at a massive athletes’ village that had everything from a fitness centre and library to a games room, chapel and shopping centre.

“It was fun for the athletes to bond and see people from other countries,” said Apperson. “You could play ping-pong against other countries and see their athletes training.

“I lost a bet in the gym and had to race an alpine skier in a swimming pool. I felt like I was drowning.”

For souvenirs, Apperson brought back chocolates and gifts for her friends and loved ones. She also bought herself some warm socks.

Apperson said she’ll always remember engaging with Kazakh locals and other athletes from across the globe.

“The friendships I made and people I met have a special spot in my heart. Everyone was so kind.”

As for how the world stage affected her game, Apperson said it has pushed her to keep improving as a player.

But in the long run, it’s unclear how much time the Communications and Public Policy student will have for that. She’s now gearing up for her final AUS playoffs.

Apperson has considered joining the Canadian Women’s Hockey League, playing in Europe after school or even hanging up the skates and embarking on a new chapter of her life, but she’s unsure what her future holds.

For now, Apperson is focused more on helping STU win an AUS banner and get to nationals next month.

“It’s my last year, and I want to make the most of it.”

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