You can sense Caitlin Kraemer blushing uncomfortably through the phone.
The 16-year-old hockey standout from Waterloo sounds at ease talking about the other elite athletes in her family, the Olympic gold medallists who have mentored her, or all the new friends she’s made on Team Canada. But she squirms when asked to describe what it’s like to score four goals for Canada in the gold-medal game at the U-18 women’s world hockey championship.
Kraemer was one of Canada’s youngest players, but she added her name to the tournament record books last week in Ostersund, Sweden, surpassing two giants in her first big international tournament. She scored three goals in 6 minutes 44 seconds, the fastest hat trick since U.S. star Kendall Coyne’s in 2010, by seven seconds. Scoring a fourth that day gave Kraemer a tournament-leading 10 goals – eclipsing the Canadian record held by Marie-Philip Poulin, who recorded eight in 2008. Kraemer shares Poulin’s humble nature.
“The success was all due to my coaches and teammates,” Kraemer said. “I’m very grateful for them. It was crazy, and I didn’t really expect it.”
A day after flying home, she was back on the ice training with her club team, the Waterloo K-W Rangers of the Ontario Women’s Hockey Association U22 elite league. She’s in Grade 11 at Resurrection Catholic Secondary School now. As soon as the window opened up to talk to players in June, she received calls from multiple schools but plans to attend the University of Minnesota Duluth on a hockey scholarship, starting in the fall of 2024.
“It’s her speed, she has such a quick release, she’s physical. She could probably go play university hockey next year, but she has a year left,” said her club coach, Chad Campbell. “She’s just so strong on her skates. When she goes in the corner, there’s girls hanging off her and she’ll come up with the puck. Sometimes you’re just in awe of the stuff she does.”
Despite being just 16 on a team with older teammates, she’s the Rangers captain and dedicated to the job. Campbell recalls when Kraemer was chosen for a Rising Stars mentorship program last year. She was being offered mentorship from Canadian gold medalist Natalie Spooner – and Kraemer considered declining it because the schedule of that program conflicted with one of her games, and she didn’t want to let her Rangers teammates down.
“I said ‘this is a great opportunity, you’ve been selected across Canada to go, you have to go, and she’s like, ‘but I don’t want to miss the game’,” Campbell recalls. “I said ‘you need to go we’ll be fine’. I had to tell her, ‘if you come I’m not playing you’.”
She was one of 20 mentees chosen for the 2022 edition of that program last spring, an initiative involving the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association that pairs emerging teen standouts with Olympians for mentorship.
Then all the girls on the recent U-18 team were partnered with a player on the senior women’s national team, who mentored them from afar throughout their tournament in Sweden. Kraemer paired with Emily Clark, another member of Canada’s 2022 Olympic gold-medal-winning team.
“Emily was shooting me messages, offering advice whenever it was needed,” Kraemer said. “All of our mentors were a big part of this tournament, too. She was telling me to really enjoy the moment. Everyone tells you it goes by fast, and it really does.”
Kraemer has been playing hockey since age five, not one of those standouts right away, but a kid who worked tirelessly. She’s quick to give credit to her father, Chris Kraemer, who had played in the OHL and at the University of Waterloo, for helping her work on her shot and stickhandling at home.
“She spends hours in the garage, shooting pucks and stick handling,” her father said.
“And not just when she was little – she’s been doing it for 10 years, like, every day. It’s just part of her routine.”
Kraemer has two older sisters – Kayla and Abby – who play soccer at the University of Maine, plus a younger sister, Ashley, who also plays hockey. During the lockdown months, the sisters trained together at home in Waterloo and Kraemer participated in the soccer training regimen with her older sisters. They ran together, raced one another, and trained in the weight room at the clinic where their dad works as a chiropractor.
“They really motivated one another,” said their mother, Connie Kraemer. “I think it was their own sibling competition that kept them engaged and going hard.”
This past July, Kraemer was invited to Hockey Canada’s 11-day camp in Calgary, which brought together 142 athletes vying for spots on Canada’s national women’s team, Canada’s national women’s development team and Canada’s national women’s under-18 team as a start to the 2022-23 season and a new four-year Olympic cycle.
“It was an incredible experience for her,” her mother said. “To be able to walk shoulder to shoulder with them, to watch Poulin and the other Olympians doing [fitness training].”
She knew very few girls from that elite group trying to make the U-18 team. Soon she found herself with a whole crop of new sisters, thriving among girls with the same interests, teens who also put in the hours in their garages and gyms back home, working to get better.
“We’re all such like-minded people that you create really great friendships with everyone,” Kraemer said.
This spring will provide a first for her, though – a chance to see Canada’s senior women’s national team when they compete in their world championships in nearby Brampton in April. She’s a big fan.
“They were at the Calgary camp, so I saw them there training, but I’ve never seen them play a game before,” Kraemer said. “I’ll definitely be watching.”