Her grandfather is in the Hockey Hall of Fame. Her father was one of the Penguins’ greatest players in the 1970s. Her brother played professional hockey and her sister is on Canada’s national women’s soccer team.
However, Gillian has something the rest don’t – an Olympic gold medal.
She was part of Team Canada’s gold medal-winning squad that cruised to the championship at February’s Winter Olympics in Torino, Italy.
“From when our team was announced to the end of the closing ceremonies, I think it was just an unbelievable ride for our team and for myself, personally,” she said. “We had a great time and it was such an honor to be able to represent Canada, to be part of the entire Canadian Olympic team and to be in the Olympic village with all the athletes from different countries. It was neat to see how the world can come together in peace – it was a neat opportunity to be a part of it.”
The 22-year-old Apps was dominant for Canada. The 6-foot left winger tied for the most goals scored in the tournament (7) and finished third overall in points (14).
“We had a great time. Things came together really nicely for our team,” she said. “We just took the tournament one game at a time and, fortunately, we found ourselves in the gold medal game. From there, it was just 60 minutes of hockey that we needed to play in order to get the gold medal.”
The Canadian women claimed the gold medal with a 4-1 win over Sweden. Apps scored Canada’s first goal in that game.
“It’s exciting,” she said. “I guess there’s no better feeling than to be able to bring the gold medal home to Canada.”
Apps, a native of suburban Toronto, skated on a line with center Hayley Wickenhiser (5+12) and right wing Cherie Piper (7+8). Those three combined for 46 points in the tournament.
“The line that I was playing on, our coaches had kept us together since August. Consistency was huge for us,” Apps said. “Because of our coaches and trainers, we peaked at the right time and we felt great in Torino. I think that was a huge help. The puck seemed to be going in for us and I think that’s just an added bonus when our team was doing so well.”
Gillian’s trip to the Olympics was yet another athletic accomplishment for the Apps family. Her father, Syl Jr., played 727 games in the NHL from 1970 to 1980. He racked up 500 points in 495 games with the Penguins from 1970-78. Her grandfather, also named Syl, played in the NHL from 1936 to 1947 with the Toronto Maple Leafs and was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1961. He led the Maple Leafs to the Stanley Cup in 1941-42 in dramatic fashion. After going down 3-0 in the best-of-seven series against the Detroit Red Wings, Toronto came back to win. It was the first comeback from a 3-0 series deficit in major North American sports history and was not repeated until 1975 when the Islanders came back to beat the Penguins. Gillian’s grandfather also represented Canada in track and field at the 1936 Berlin Olympics, finishing sixth in the pole vault.
Her brother, Syl III, played hockey at Princeton. He graduated in 1999 and spent some time in the Maple Leafs farm system. Her sister, Amy, is a midfielder on Canada’s national women’s soccer team.
“It is a cool thing to be a part of. I feel if I can just add to the story a little bit, it makes me proud,” Gillian said. “It was very special for me to have my family over in Torino with me. They are the reason I got there, so it was nice to be able to share it with them.”
Gillian’s father, mother and brother flew to Torino to watch Gillian. Amy, recovering from a knee injury, was unable to join them .
“These things come along once in a lifetime and you’d probably kick yourself if you missed it. We had a very nice experience over there,” said Syl, who had eight points in 19 playoff games with the Penguins during his career. “It was a lot of fun because there was so much going on over there. We were watching hockey all the time, but there was so much more going on. We saw the women’s downhill one day. We also saw speed skating and cross-country skiing. There was always sort of a buzz because every day there’s something new. The Canadian team, as a whole, did really well.”
The Apps family was able to spend time together on Gillian’s off days.
“We went over and thought [the athletes] would be sequestered,” Syl said. “With the way the games worked out, we were able to see Gillian and go out for dinner sometimes.”
Syl is proud of his daughter and the entire hockey team.
“It sinks in when you come back. We’ve been around the team for four years and [they feel] like family. We know all the families and the girls, so there certainly is that family aspect,” he said. “We are happy for the ones who may have been there for the last time and happy for the ones who were there for the first time.
“I know three or four of the players who got cut from the team and I feel so badly for them,” he continued. “They could have just as easily been there as not. You’re really happy for the ones who made it, too. They work 12 months a year every year just to qualify to be there.”
Gillian hopes to add to her medal collection at the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver.
“Absolutely. There was a lot of talk about it before heading to Torino. For the girls in the locker room, we just wanted to focus on this year,” she said. “We’ve done what we wanted to do in Italy and we can now turn our focus to Vancouver. Our team might be a little different depending on who retires and who decides to stay with us. It’s going to be a good four years coming up. Hopefully, we can defend the gold medal on home soil.”
Meanwhile, Gillian plans to return to Dartmouth College in April to complete her final year. She took off the fall and winter semesters to train with the Canadian team.
“I am looking forward to bringing [the gold medal] to school in the spring to show my coach and my friends,” she said. “I have one year of eligibility left there. I am really looking forward to going back. I am excited that I have one year left to play.”
She will have some familiar faces on Dartmouth’s squad – Canadian teammates Katie Weatherston and Piper, plus United States forward Sarah Parsons.
“It’ll be exciting to go back. I think all of us are looking forward to playing together,” Apps said. “Hopefully, we can come back and look forward to going for a national championship.”