Waterford goaltender completes first season playing for team in China

Jacob Robinson

By Jacob Robinson, Simcoe Reformer

Waterford's Elaine Chuli, 24, recently finished her rookie season in the Canadian Women's Hockey League playing for the Vanke Rays. Photo courtesy Visual China

Waterford's Elaine Chuli, 24, recently finished her rookie season in the Canadian Women's Hockey League playing for the Vanke Rays. Photo courtesy Visual China


Elaine Chuli is part of a very exclusive club.

The Waterford goaltender recently completed her first season within the Canadian Women’s Hockey League, which is impressive on its own but not out of the ordinary. But when you factor in that the 24-year-old played for the Vanke Rays out of China, constantly travelling back and forth from the Far East, it’s something few can claim.

Putting aside the travel and new lifestyle, Chuli was most excited to return from a knee injury that kept her out of the game in 2016-17.

“It was also exciting just to go play professional hockey and make it a career for the season and just focus on hockey, it was pretty neat for women’s hockey as well,” said Chuli.

“Living in a different country and being able to travel in Asia, it was something I never really thought I would’ve had the chance to do.”

Chuli and her Rays teammates served as hockey ambassadors throughout the year as China readies to host the Winter Olympics in 2022. When they weren’t teaching the next generation of stars, the Rays put together a competitive record of 14-13-1. At the midway point of the year, Vanke was at or near the top in most statistical categories, but it’s safe to say their hectic schedule wasn’t kind.

“The first half of the season was just awesome, I think we surprised a few people,” said Chuli. “I think the second half we knew we had a tougher schedule, we started on the road.”

The Rays went from Toronto to Calgary to Montreal and back to China in one short stretch.

“It was a lot of travel and it really wears you out ... we went through some rough patches but I think we definitely learned from it,” said Chuli. “The last few games of our season we definitely turned it around, it was a little too late to get into the playoffs but we were a young team and everyone had to learn from it.”

Chuli enjoyed individual success as one of three rookie goalies in the league. She tied Boston’s Lauren Dahm for games played (27), was third in wins (14), third in shutouts (4) and posted a .913 save percentage despite facing the second most shots in the league (851).

“I hadn’t played a game in a long time, since my senior year at (the University of Connecticut) so I think I had to get back into the swing of things,” said the Waterford District High School grad. “That was the easy part. The back end of the season when things aren’t going well and you’re logging all the minutes, you’ve got to do your best to grind through it and step up because not every season is going to go like the first half of our year did.

“It was learning to battle through adversity and realize you’re not going to stop every puck, you’re not going to win every game so just kind of learn from it, move on and dig deep.”

Chuli recently completed her one-year contract with the Rays but expects to be back in the league next season. Now back home for the summer, she’s focused on improving different facets of her game in preparation for her sophomore campaign.

“I’m working on getting quicker, faster, a little stronger and on my mobility because as you get older you’ve got to keep everything loose,” she said. “My knee is feeling good so we’ll just kind of keep pushing forward – it’s tough when you miss a whole year of the training I was used to when I was off for surgery. I’m still trying to get back to where I was before that. I’m just taking it day by day – little steps each day.”