History was made over the weekend when the U.S. national hockey team fielded a black player against Canada. She is in the person of Laila Edwards, a 19-year-old Wisconsin sophomore. She was on a forward line with Olympian Abby Roque and Badgers teammate Britta Curl in Los Angeles.
Her inclusion in the U.S. national team was no fluke nor was it tokenism. She earned it. According to The Athletic, as a sophomore at Wisconsin, Edwards is fifth in team scoring with 18 points in 12 games. Also, she was top-10 in scoring as a freshman en route to the Badgers’ seventh national championship. What is more, she was named to the WCHA all-rookie team. In 2022, she was an alternate captain on the U.S. team that won a silver medal at the U18 World Championships and was named tournament MVP.
“It’s an honor to be the first Black woman on the national team, but this team’s been around for a long time,” she said before the game, Andscape reported. “And not to sound ungrateful, but it would have been nice to have someone that looked like me on that team before me. I’m glad that I’m able to be that someone for another little Black girl out there.”
At 6-foot-1 — and skilled, Edwards, the second youngest of four children, grew up in Cleveland Heights. Her father played hockey as a recreational sport while her mother, Charone, helped coach them on the ice.
Edwards and her only sister Chayla, started with figure skating but moved to hockey full-time when she was around six years old. Edwards eventually fell in love with the sport and has since grown into it.
In elementary school, she played boys’ hockey and by the time she got to seventh grade, Edwards had attracted some of the top women’s hockey colleges in the nation. She was first sighted by Dan Koch, a longtime associate coach at Wisconsin.
At the time, she was not all that tall but her size made her a threat. “She was able to beat people one-on-one. She always had a heavy shot. And she’s very versatile,” Koch said. “She was just competitive. She wanted the puck on her stick and had a good skill set. Those were the things that really attracted us to her.”
However, when she got to eighth grade, she attended an elite girls’ hockey program at Bishop Kearney, a private school in Rochester, N.Y. She then went from 5-foot-6 to around 5-foot-10 between eighth and ninth grade.
A year after high school, she was still committed to Wisconsin and went on to score 147 goals and 413 points in 287 games while at Bishop Kearney. Also, she trained with the Badgers and she eventually transitioned into the NCAA.
Her historic moment came when in August, she got an email notifying her that she had been selected into the U.S. National Team player pool. A month later, she was named to the Rivalry Series roster for the games against Canada in November.