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Hanging In There : Staying Home Hasn't Hurt Goaltender Chanda Gunn

January 20, 1998|MARTIN BECK | TIMES STAFF WRITER

HUNTINGTON BEACH — Chanda Gunn was 14 and playing in her first competitive ice hockey tournament when recruiters first noticed her.

The summer before her freshman year of high school, Gunn was in goal for newly formed Team California in a girls' tournament in Connecticut.

"Someone from Boston College approached her," said her mother, Penny, "and asked her what her SAT score was. Chanda said, 'I don't know. What's an SAT?' "

Soon Gunn began to attract more age-appropriate recruiting. Prep schools started wooing the standout goaltender from Huntington Beach. A friend from Team California, Angela Ruggiero (then from Simi Valley), went to Choate Rosemary Hall in Connecticut and now, as an 18-year-old senior, is the youngest player on the U.S. women's Olympic ice hockey team.

Gunn and her parents considered prep school but rejected it.

"We had the luxury of knowing that she was getting the exposure and was getting recognized as a strong player," said her father, Rod. "The second part was more of a family matter. As a family you have to consider losing, in this case, our daughter at an earlier age and we made the decision that we wanted her home throughout high school."

Said Penny Gunn: "I wanted her childhood memories to be with her family, not some other people she meets in prep school."

So Gunn played her formative years with boys' youth teams and Team California, which travels to about six tournaments a year throughout North America. She was among 68 of the top 17- and 18-year-olds invited to U.S.A. Hockey's junior development camp last summer in Lake Placid, N.Y., and will probably return this summer.

"Among female goaltenders in her class she's got to be one of the top three in the country," said Scott Plumer, coach of Team California. "She's very quick from side to side and very athletic.

"Basically for the last four years she has been the backbone of Team California. It's really hard to score on her. If we get a couple goals, we are hard to beat."

A 97% save percentage for Team California, which finished fifth in the Midget division national championships in 1997, has kept Gunn's stock high with college recruiters. If she is accepted, Gunn will attend Princeton. She hopes to become a hockey coach after her playing career.

Meanwhile, Gunn gets on the ice as much as possible, a quest no doubt aided by her father's purchase of Surf City Skate Zone in Huntington Beach last year. Then again, she was usually playing hockey every day anyway.

Gunn essentially introduced herself to the sport. Active in swimming and soccer, she was a hockey spectator for two years, from age 11 to 12, watching her younger brother Jake's games. A couple of times, armed with only a baseball glove, Gunn caught tennis-ball slap slots from Jake in the front yard, but her family was still surprised when she asked for goaltending equipment for her 13th birthday.

"To them it was a shock," Gunn said, "but it seemed so natural to me."

Now she packs her schedule by playing for two local boys' teams--a Midget team of 15- to 17-year-olds and a Junior team of 18- to 20-year-olds. The competition--and powerful shots--boys provide has helped her improve as a goalkeeper, she said.

Gunn has no doubt she made the right choice by staying in Southern California--she's a senior at Huntington Beach High--where she can play year round rather than meet prep school requirements of playing another sport.

"I think, had I really looked into it," she said, "and saw you only get to play a few months out of the year, I would have said, 'Nah, forget this.' "

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