Decorated Olympian Julie Chu lends a hand at Lightning prospect camp

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TAMPA — About a month ago, Julie Chu received an invitation from Lightning general manager Julien BriseBois to join the team as a guest coach at this week’s prospect camp.

Chu, one of women’s hockey’s most decorated Olympians, is the women’s coach at Concordia University in Montreal, and the camp overlapped with the start of her team’s season. Still, being able to learn from Lightning coaches was too good of an opportunity to pass up.

“Obviously, I still had to check with work and everything,” Chu said with a smile. “It wasn’t right off the bat, ‘Yeah, let’s do this.’ But it aligned, and I’m really fortunate that Concordia, my team, my family are okay with me being away, because it’s the start of our season as well. ... But it’s been an incredible experience, and I’m feeling really welcome to be a part of this group for this week.”

Chu is a four-time Olympic medalist — winning three silvers and one bronze — tied for the most medals by an American women’s hockey player. She’s the first women’s national team member to earn five World Championship gold medals, and she scored 40 goals and 83 assists in 150 games with Team USA in international play.

“She’s a great hockey mind,” Lightning player development director Stacy Roest said. “With her resume and with what she’s accomplished, we were very excited to have her attend.”

Chu joked that most of the players probably didn’t know who she was or what she was doing at the camp.

“I think they were more doing a double-take at first, thinking, ‘I’m not sure who she is,’ and what’s going on? And even on the ice, (AHL Syracuse coach) Ben (Groulx) was joking, ‘It’s not often they hear a woman’s voice on the ice.’”

During Thursday’s third practice of the camp — which includes some of the organization’s top prospects and rookies — Chu led three drills. Growing up in Connecticut, she remembers being the only girl on the ice, saying she didn’t think much of it at the time.

“What’s exciting is now the younger generation, whether they’re boys or girls, are coming into the rink and they don’t think it’s weird that girls are playing hockey,” Chu said. “By me being here, I’m guessing most of the players in the room haven’t been coached by a female before.”

Though some of her Team USA teammates earned NHL jobs, Chu said she is content coaching at Concordia. Former national team captain Meghan Duggan was hired by the Devils in May as manager of player development. Kendall Coyne Schofield joined the Blackhawks last season as a player development coach.

Chu had to leave after Thursday’s practice to return to Concordia, which played its first game of the season — and first in 571 days due to the pandemic — without her.

“Hopefully, this little experience allows me to continue to have opportunities, but my players were really pumped up,” she said. “They think it’s really cool when they see what’s maybe possible as they move through hockey, too.”

Koepke sidelined

Minutes into the first scrimmage action of this week’s prospects camp, forward Cole Koepke left Thursday’s practice after slamming shoulder first into the back boards.

Koepke — a 23-year-old who went to back-to-back Frozen Fours and was part of a national championship team 2019 at Minnesota-Duluth before playing nine games with the Lightning’s AHL club in Syracuse — is one of the most intriguing players in this week’s camp.

“We were worried (it was) shoulder or hand and it sounds like it was more of a stinger, you know like the football guys get,” Lightning scouting director Al Murray said. “He says he didn’t lose consciousness, he remembers everything and his shoulder’s fine. So we’re optimistic, but that will be up to the medical people.”

Of the 24 skaters the Lightning brought to prospects camp, only one was unable to participate heading into the week. Forward Odeen Tufto, 24, signed last season after a prolific college career at Quinnipiac, worked on skating drills off to the side but wasn’t a full participant coming off a knee injury.

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