Denise Soesilo ’10 has been on the “Tonight Show,” and she almost never knew. Sporting one of the bright green-and-orange tasseled hats worn by her teammates on last winter’s German Olympic women’s hockey squad, Soesilo was walking through Torino’s Olympic Village when she was approached by the Tonight Show’s flamboyant in-the-field reporter Ross the Intern.
“He just started playing with my hat, pretending he wanted it,” Soesilo said. “I really didn’t know what he was doing, but I guess he was just pretending to be weird. It was kind of awkward.”
It wasn’t until a friend phoned Soesilo after the short clip aired on NBC that she learned she had actually been on TV.
“He goes, ‘I saw you on Jay Leno’s show.’ And I was like, ‘Oh, really? Maybe that’s what that was,’” she said.
If an appearance on national television seems like something most people would trumpet, for Soesilo, a freshman on the Yale Women’s Ice Hockey team, it is more a source of amusement than of pride. Since her childhood in Hamburg, Germany, Soesilo has played hockey nearly anyplace in the world where there’s a rink — including Harbin, China — so putting the word “national” in front of “television” isn’t terribly overwhelming.
But more to the point, Soesilo’s various claims to celebrity — joining the German national hockey team at age 14, going to the 2006 Winter Olympics, meeting the Prince of Monaco — are really only incidental to what she does, and what she has known how to do since childhood: play hockey.
Her first contact with the sport occurred at age 5, when her neighbor in Hamburg invited her to come skating with him. “My neighbor played hockey, but I didn’t know what hockey was,” she said. “I didn’t even know what skating was.” It only took a few days on the ice before one of the adults who headed up the local youth hockey team approached her about playing: “He said, ‘Okay, now you need a helmet, and you need a stick, and the next tournament is next week — you’re going to play hockey now,’” Soesilo said. “And I totally didn’t know what was happening.”
Hockey soon became her consuming passion, and the interceding years between youth hockey in Hamburg and Olympic competition in Torino were filled with the constant, inglorious toil of training. Few students let loose a sigh of relief upon beginning their first semester of classes at Yale — especially with the additional burden of off-season training thrown on top — but Soesilo said things have slowed down for her since she arrived in New Haven. “You actually get to go to class here,” she said. “When I was in high school in Hamburg, I would train every morning from eight until lunch, and I would have to miss most of my classes. The only reason I was able to finish was because I was in a program that allowed you to have a private tutor.”
Given the number of hours Yale assistant coach Harry Rosenholtz says Soesilo spends working on her one-time slap shot, it would seem that a solid hockey program would be high on Soesilo’s college wish list. But when asked why she chose Yale, Soesilo barely hesitated in citing the packed calendar of classical music performances at Yale. A Brahms aficionado, Soesilo has been playing violin nearly as long as she has been skating. “I also know every Beethoven symphony by heart,” she said.
Such a detail seems to do justice to what can best be described as a robust cosmopolitan streak in Soesilo, who has traversed a fair portion of the globe already and has no plans to stop after Yale. In high school, she spent two years studying in Canada, living in an apartment on her own. “It was in Calgary, which is in Alberta,” she said. “It was full of cows — a ‘cow town,’ they call it.”
Soesilo’s English glides along with a delicacy and precision commonly exhibited by foreign speakers, and by all indications, her playing style is marked by the same deliberate, businesslike manner. If her teammates and coaches on the Yale team agree on Soesilo’s intense competitive drive, they also agree, paradoxically, on her ability to execute the task at hand without being swayed by emotion or pressure. “She’s an incredibly poised player,” said Helen Resor ’09, Soesilo’s only Yale teammate with Olympic experience of her own. “For Denise to play with such skill and consistency at the international level — let alone as a freshman in the NCAA — shows a level of concentration that’s really admirable.”
Soesilo’s humility is also borne out in her interactions with her peers on the hockey team, Rosenholtz said. Rosenholtz said he doubted if Soesilo had even breathed a word of her Olympic experiences to her teammates.
“We are all aware of it, but Denise never really mentions it,” he said. “She lets her play do her talking.”