At 18 years old, Tina Nguyen already knows what she wants out of life — working in the NHL, a sport that doesn’t have the best history of welcoming women of color.
I do not think there are enough words in the dictionary for me to describe what hockey means to me. I simply cannot fathom my life without it
Many people consider hobbies to be leisure activities. For me, watching hockey is more than a distraction, more than a fun activity — it’s become my life. Even though I don’t play the sport, I live and breathe hockey.
I was always taught that the most important thing in life was doing what you love. Growing up, my brother always pushed me to find one thing I really liked. He would make me write lists of activities I enjoyed and continuously ask me what I liked to do in my spare time. This is because he knew the value of discovering your true passion early in life and getting a head start. When I was older, I would be ahead of everyone else. As more time passed, I felt more and more lost. I never had an answer to “What do you want to do?”
This all changed when I discovered the game of hockey.
The 2016 World Cup of Hockey was what initially piqued my interest in the game. Team Canada’s star-studded roster, with the likes of Crosby, Bergeron, and Marchand, was surreal to watch as a new hockey fan.
However, watching a revamped Toronto Maple Leafs roster with rookie phenoms like Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, and William Nylander transform the game with their speed and skill and go from dead last to making the playoffs solidified my passion for the game.
On my 13th birthday, I received tickets for a Toronto Maple Leafs’ game that was three months away. The wait was unbearable. Then the day came, a brisk Monday in the first month of the new year; the day my life would change forever. As I took my first steps into the Air Canada Centre, words were stolen from me. I was speechless in this building where I watched my favorite team play night after night on my television screen at home.
Sitting down in my nosebleed seats, I somehow felt as close to the game as I ever could. When the puck hit the ice, I concluded that there was nothing else out there. The hard rattle of the boards, the sharp skates cutting through the ice, the cheers of the crowd. There was something beautiful to me about 20,000 strangers coming together to enjoy something they each loved. Pure bliss was the only feeling in my body.
I felt a sense of belonging that I had never experienced before. At that moment, I had an epiphany. This was it; this was what I wanted to do. An image of myself in an NHL front office formed in my mind. It was like finding the treasure at the end of the map.
Finally, I discovered my true calling.
I set my goal to one day work in professional sports. And from that day on, everything I have done has been in hopes of achieving that goal. I was in the “sports-interest” class in middle school, I helped co-found my high school’s Advanced Athletic Analysis club. I interned for the Mississauga Sports Council. I coached soccer for young girls, I currently volunteer for the Mississauga Steelheads, and much more. Then, in my senior year of high school, all of my efforts paid off. I was selected out of over 1,000 kids across North America to be on the NHL’s Youth Advisory Board. I am now in my second term as a member of the NHL Power Players, a group that works in tandem with the CMO, Heidi Browning, and is dedicated to helping grow the League’s young fanbase.
Hockey has given me purpose; something to always look forward to. There is nothing I love more than being on the edge of my seat, watching in awe as Auston Matthews rips a shot bar down, or seeing Mitch Marner dangle past an entire team. To most people, hockey is a puck going into a net. But to me, it’s the set plays, the special teams, the lightning-speed tape-to-tape passes. It’s the huge smiles, yells, and embraces after scoring a goal. There is nothing that compares to hearing a big “BOOM” after seeing 200-pound men slam into the boards — while on ice and knife-sharp blades. To put it simply, hockey never fails to amaze me. It has taught me how it feels to love and be passionate about something.
And the obstacles I have faced as an Asian girl who likes hockey have transformed me in more ways than I could ever imagine.
In all honesty, I don’t think the universe wanted me to be a fan of hockey. I couldn’t skate and I didn’t even have cable. Even so, I would read the live play-by-play alone, quietly waiting for “GOAL” to flash up on my screen. In school, no one could fathom the idea of a short, small southeast Asian girl enjoying a “white man’s sport.” To them, it was laughable, almost unbelievable. They would quiz me on players and doubt the authenticity of my words. Nevertheless, I endured it day after day for this game of sticks and a piece of rubber.
All of their comments, their mockery, their pestering — it was all noise. None of it mattered because there was not anything in my life that could come close to this newfound euphoria.
My obstacles turned out to be blessings as I emerged as a stronger young woman and a better person. When people were perplexed at the idea of someone who looked like me, going into a white male-dominated industry, I paid them no attention. Though it was difficult hearing my own friends and family tell me to choose something “easier” — like becoming a doctor or a lawyer — instead, I knew that I was a hard-working, determined, and passionate individual who did not require others’ validation. I would prove them wrong by proving myself right.
I love sports more than life itself, but I have had to fight every step of the way to simply enjoy them. However, I would not be where I am today without the obstacles I faced. I am now able to offer unique perspectives that not many other people possess. Additionally, my experiences have helped me gain insight into how to grow the game for young people like me. I never want anyone to have to go through what I went through, and my position on the board gives me an opportunity to use my own personal experiences to help others. It has been amazing to be able to get my foot in the door of my ultimate goal so young, and for it to be centered around such great causes is indescribable. However, it is not the end of my journey, just the beginning. When I was growing up, I always admired the people who made me think, “if they can do it, I can too.” And now, I want to be that person for anyone out there who may be doubting themselves.
Hockey sprouted a growth in me that has shaped me into the person I am today. Now, I am always prepared to adapt and overcome whatever obstacles I am faced with. Frankly, I have come to welcome them. They have taught me patience by showing me that nothing good ever comes easy. Moreover, I’ve learned that you can not sacrifice your own happiness for the sake of others. Ultimately, they have pushed me to become resilient and to persevere; to never give up.
What started out as a simple hobby quickly transitioned into the forefront of my life. It has shown me the sheer joys one could experience in this lifetime. What it feels like to have passions; to truly care about something. Not to mention, the privilege of sharing that passion with those around you. Furthermore, it has taught me the insignificance of others’ opinions or comments when it comes to something you love. I learned that in the end, it is all worth it. That with trial, comes triumph.