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With speed and energy, Sylvie Wallin creating a buzz at Princeton

Princeton junior Sylvie Wallin is as much of a presence off the ice as she is on the blue line

Princeton defender Sylvie Wallin Shelley Szwast/Princeton Athletics

It’s hard to miss Sylvie Wallin out on the ice. The Princeton junior is a towering defender who, as her coach puts it, skates like the wind.

A buzzing personality makes her just as hard to miss off it, too.

Growing up in the hockey hotbed of Edina, Minn., it’s probably no surprise that Wallin would go on to play college hockey. She starred on the blue line for The Blake School as a high schooler in Minnesota. But she didn’t always have big-time dreams of playing hockey.

“When I was young, I was never the kid who was like, ‘Oh, I want to play Division I,” Wallin said. “I didn’t have any of those role models where you have posters on your wall. I was totally aloof.”

In high school, Wallin helped The Blake School to three Class A state championships and was named to the all-tournament team three times. But she also ran track and played soccer, tennis, and golf growing up. For her, sports offered a way to stay active and spend time with friends.

Once it became clear that Division I hockey was a possibility for her, Wallin knew she wanted to play at an Ivy League school. Princeton ended up being the perfect fit, although it’s got as much to do with hockey as it does with her interests away from the rink.

On the ice, head coach Cara Morey lauds her for her energetic style, a blazing mix of passion and speed.

“She can motivate the team on a whim,” Morey said. “She plays with a ton of energy. She’ll be flying around on the ice, and I’m like, ‘Sylvie, stay on your feet,’ and she picks up the whole bench that way. She plays with a ton of passion and skates like the wind; she can skate for days and days. She passes the puck a million miles a minute. She’s really contributed and stepped up and helped us defend.”

Speed is a definite factor in her game, and Wallin often isn’t afraid to use it to take some risks, whether it’s with her skating or a signature hard, crisp pass.

“I like to join the rush and even if I don’t necessarily end up getting the pass to take the shot, I think it’s important to get involved,” Wallin said. “Streaming down the ice I think is just something I find myself doing a lot in tight games. [Coach will say] ‘O.K., O.K., we don’t need to score yet,’ but I get really excited.

“And I sometimes throw floaters up the ice or seam passes to try to catch my teammates with a breakaway. That’s one of my favorites, when I’m coming up the ice and I see a little seam open, I’ll try to thread it through as carefully as possible. Which is kind of a high-risk pass but usually high-reward, too.”

But she also prides herself on being a clean, physical player, who brings a laser-sharp focus to the bench.

“In those tough games, I really value the little things and being disciplined,” she said. “I think it’s really important to be a leader in knowing the times to be fun and the times to sing songs and joke around and laugh, but also the times to buckle down.”

Princeton defender Sylvie Wallin passes the puck along the blue line.
Wallin is stepping up as a leader for the Tigers this year.
Shelley Szwast/Princeton Athletics

Wallin was sidelined for six games and decked out in a fresh cast — her color of choice? “obviously hot pink” — after suffering a broken hand in a game against Syracuse in November. But she’s back in the line-up now and provides needed depth and experience to one of the nation’s top teams.

“She really analyzes a lot of things, and she’s become probably one of the biggest leaders in the junior class,” Morey said. “I’ll sometimes put her with one of our freshmen D to make them feel a little bit of stability. She’s just been an anchor back there.”

From the moment she came to campus, though, Wallin didn’t want to be put in a box because of hockey. She was intent on branching out and keen to make a difference in other areas, joining a sorority and stepping outside of the athletics bubble to make friends with students who don’t play a sport. And she dove right into her academics, too.

“I came in with this mindset that I am here obviously for hockey, but also for school,” she said. “And I’m not just going to pass classes here, I’m going to succeed in these classes, and I’m going to take advantage of this insane educational opportunity.”

Wallin is majoring at Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, a program she describes as “a hybrid between politics, international relations, and economics.” As part of her studies this past fall semester, she took part in a task force that examined the effects wars have long-term. She penned a report on the culture of impunity regarding sexual abuse and exploitation on United Nations peacekeeping missions.

“Peacekeepers are going into these terribly impoverished or violence-ridden countries that need the most help, and abusing the local women and children, mostly,” Wallin explained. “But because of peacekeeper immunity laws, the peacekeepers [who commit these crimes] are never held accountable and so a culture of impunity has arisen.”

For her report, Wallin identified the issue at hand and conducted interviews with experts in the field. At the end of the semester, the task force visited the United Nations, and she was one of three members to present her specific findings there.

“I presented the problem, what I’ve identified as the main constraints and challenges, and I gave short-term policy recommendations and long-term policy recommendations,” Wallin said. “I gave my biggest, most ambitious or bold recommendation, which would be to create an international hybrid court agency that would exempt all peacekeeper immunity laws.”

Afterward, in a Q&A session, UN officials explained some of the constraints they face in addressing the issue. But overall, Wallin says they were receptive to hearing her ideas and appreciated the fresh perspective.

It’s almost hard to picture Wallin, bright-eyed and exuberant, arm burnished in a hot pink cast, dissecting an issue as dark as sexual assault and impunity among United Nations peacekeepers. Those are reserved conversations, held often in the shadows. But the fervor she brings to her research and studies is no different from what you might see from her on the blue line at Hobey Baker Rink. She’s not the kind of person who fits neatly inside a box; her boundless energy and enthusiasm shine through no matter what the endeavor.

So it makes sense that she hasn’t settled on a definitive career path yet. But she wants to go to law school after she finishes up at Princeton, and she has a palpable interest in politics; she’ll spend next summer working in Washington, D.C. No matter where her career takes her, she feels prepared to face whatever’s next because of the lessons she’s learned as a Tiger.

“Through meeting other athletes, people I get randomly paired with in class, and people from different countries, I realized that I’m just so much more similar to them than I ever would have thought,” Wallin said. “At the end of the day, we’re all just humans trying to figure this out. [It’s shown me] the importance of teamwork, collaboration and seeing another person’s perspective, and that I’m probably more similar to them than different if I can just overcome the immediate or initial barriers that I perceive to be different.”