Laila Edwards becomes first Black woman to play for USA at a world championship


UTICA, N.Y. — Laila Edwards has become the first Black woman to play for the U.S. women’s national team at a world championship.

Edwards, 20, became the first Black woman to play for Team USA in November, when she played in the 2023-24 Rivalry Series against Canada. Now a member of the 23-player roster at worlds and on the ice in Wednesday’s opener against Switzerland, Edwards has officially arrived on the international stage, and solidified her spot on the national team.

“I’m very humbled and grateful to be in this position so that the next young girl can see me and say, ‘If she can do it, I can do it,’” Edwards told The Athletic in November.

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With a combination of size — she stands 6-foot-1 — and skill, Edwards is one of the most unique and exciting prospects in women’s hockey. She’s a highly skilled playmaker with the ability to slow the game down around her. She can find laser-thin seams in the ice, or see plays progress two steps ahead of her competition.

“I don’t think there’s another woman like her in the game right now,” said Team USA coach John Wroblewski.

Edwards just finished her sophomore season at the University of Wisconsin, where she doubled her point totals from her freshman year and finished top 10 in scoring in the NCAA with 56 points in 41 games. In the WCHA Finals, against top-ranked Ohio State, Edwards scored two goals and four points to lead the Badgers to a 6-3 win. In the NCAA Tournament, she scored three goals and five points in the first two rounds to send Wisconsin to a second-straight national championship game, which the Badgers lost 1-0 to Ohio State.

On Team USA, Edwards is slotted in as a bottom-six forward, alongside veteran players Kelly Pannek and Hayley Scamurra. Edwards is the tallest player on the U.S. national team — and taller than everyone on rival Canada’s — but she’s not your typical power forward and does not rely on pure physical ability.

“The interesting thing about her is that you look at the size and that she puts up points, but the most impressive thing about her (is her) brain,” said Wroblewski. “Her computer is extremely advanced. She’s got very nifty hands and she’s able to navigate the neutral zone extremely well. She’s sort of a dream to play with.”

Edwards grew up in Cleveland Heights, Ohio — the second-youngest of four children — and started figure skating with her older sister, Chayla, when she was a kid. She attended an elite girls’ hockey program at Bishop Kearney, a private school in Rochester, N.Y., and committed to Wisconsin after her freshman year of high school. In her first tournament with USA Hockey, the 2022 U18 women’s worlds, Edwards was a star. Nobody on Team USA had more points; nobody in the world had more goals; and she was named the top forward and MVP.

There have been other trailblazers in women’s hockey, such as Canadians Angela James, the first Black woman to be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame, and Sarah Nurse, who became the first Black woman to win an ice hockey gold medal at the Olympics in 2022. Julie Chu was the first Asian American to play for Team USA at the Olympics in 2002. And Abby Roque became the first Indigenous woman to represent Team USA at the Olympics in 2022.

Having a Black woman representing Team USA in international competition is a long-awaited first.

“I never anticipated being a role model. I was always searching for one myself, someone who resembled me and had similar aspirations,” Edwards wrote in an op-ed at Wisconsin. “But when I reflect on conversations with parents about how I’ve inspired their child to play hockey, it reminds me of the path I get to create for others.”

(Photo of Laila Edwards at the Rivalry Series in November 2023: AP Photo / Ashley Landis)





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