Emma Venusio skates through a Team USA defender as a member of Team Canada. The student at Toronto’s Bishop Allen Academy captained Team Canada to a bronze medal at the recent World U-18 championships in Switzerland.Photo courtesy Hockey Canada

Toronto high school student leads Team Canada to U-18 bronze

The Bishop Allen Academy cafeteria buzzed with an energy and enthusiasm earlier this month that went well beyond usual teenage boisterousness.

Students and staff at this Catholic secondary school in Toronto fervently cheered as they watched one of their own, twelfth-grader Emma Venusio, captain Team Canada to bronze at the 2024 IIHF Under-18 Women’s World Championship in Zug, Switzerland, from Jan. 6-14. The Canadians topped Finland in the bronze matchup, skating away with an 8-1 victory, after being upset by Czechia in the semi-finals.

Venusio said she felt the love and support of her school community over 6,500 km away.

“It is awesome to have all my friends, teachers and all the staff supporting me with school when I am gone because I do miss a bit,” said Venusio. “They are accommodating. Also, knowing I have that support behind me is a really great feeling.”

The Toronto native said wearing the ‘C’ on her jersey was humbling.

“It is truly an honour,” said Venusio, who developed her craft the past several seasons with the Etobicoke Dolphins in the Ontario Women’s Hockey League. “It was something I never dreamed about. Being on Team Canada is always a dream, but then to be able to lead the team is such a surreal experience.”

Though gold is always the standard for Canadian hockey teams on the international stage — Venusio did capture gold at the 2023 tournament — the two-way blueliner was at the top of her game with a goal and eight assists over Team Canada’s six games.

Luke Wilson, Venusio’s physical education teacher and hockey coach at Bishop Allen, knew such excellence was possible as he has witnessed the 17-year-old develop into a force at both ends of the ice.

“It is actually hard to try and put her in one spot when she is playing school hockey because she can do both things,” said Wilson. “What I’m trying to do is have her on defence, but also allow her the freedom to have rushes with the puck almost like a Bobby Orr type of player.

“She also has an unbelievable shot. She probably has one of the best shots for a player her age in the world. We’ve had games where she comes down the ice and the (opposing) goalie almost dives out of the way. I wish I was being facetious here, but they really do move as they are scared to get hit. Her shot injured a goalie in a game this year who was wearing full equipment.”

Venusio said she has patterned her game after Renata Fast, the standout rearguard for Canada women’s national ice hockey team who has captured two world championships and an Olympic gold medal at the 2022 Games in Beijing, China. Fast is starring for Toronto in the Professional Women’s Hockey League (PWHL), which earlier this month launched its inaugural season.

“To this day I still look up to her,” said Venusio. “Then being able to meet her, and recently having a chance to hop on the ice with her has been really awesome. As a player and as a person she is such an amazing role model for me and other girls in hockey.”

Because of Venusio’s excellence on and off the ice, Wilson said she has distinguished herself as a great role model in her own right.

“She is very inspirational,” said Wilson. “After she won the championship last year we had a picture of her put up on the wall that she signed. It is right alongside our former student (Adam Pelech) who went on to the NHL (with the New York Islanders), and another female named Claire Dalton who is playing for Montreal in the PWHL. People like Emma, Claire and Adam are awesome role models for the kids. They show kids that you can have a dream, and if you work hard you can pursue that dream and accomplish it.”

Venusio brings her leadership qualities to the Bishop Allen team as well.

“She plays on the girls’ varsity team for girls from Grades 9-12. That is a big deal as we have quite a few Grade 9 and 10 students on the team. They are learning all the time and they see the possibilities of chasing their dream just like Emma has in her career. She is fantastic with them as well. She helps them and leads by example on how to conduct yourself on the ice and how to treat people away from (the rink).”

Venusio has committed to join the vaunted University of Wisconsin women’s ice hockey team upon graduation from Bishop Allen Academy. She will be coached by Mark Johnson, a member of the United States 1980 “Miracle on Ice” Olympic team who has accumulated a lofty 614-117-53 (.817) record during his illustrious 21-season NCAA coaching career.


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