If one word can describe the Canadian national women’s team journey towards the Sochi Winter Games, it would be change. From having to deal with the release of Tessa Bonhomme and a coaching change midway through camp; Hayley Wickenheiser has been replaced as Canada’s captain.
As Canada looks to defend its gold medal victory from Vancouver 2010, Montreal’s Caroline Ouellette has been bestowed the honor of the captaincy. It is not only a tremendous milestone for Ouellette, but for her club team, the Montreal Stars. It not only marks the first time that a Stars player has been named Team Canada’s captain for the Winter Games, it is also the first time that an active CWHL player has earned the nod.
From a leadership standpoint, Wickenheiser shall remain part of the core as alternate captain. Jayna Hefford and Catherine Ward shall rotate as alternate captains. During the 2013 IIHF Women’s Worlds, Hefford, a 17-year veteran with Canada’s national team served as captain when Wickenheiser was unable to play.
While the entire year of 2013 has consisted of peaks and valleys for Canada’s women in hockey – jubilation included Ouellette’s 200th appearance in a Canadian sweater, along with Hefford playing in her 250 game for Canada – to desolation such as Montreal losing the Clarkson Cup to Boston and Canada losing the gold medal on home ice at the IIHF Women’s Worlds for the first time – fans can only hope that Ouellette’s appointment to the captaincy is a sign of consistency to come.
Although Canada and the United States are still head and shoulders above the rest of the competing nations, the reality is that the cap continues to close. An upset of any kind to the likes of Finland or Switzerland is completely unacceptable. Burdening a significant amount of pressure heading into Sochi, Ouellette is more than accustomed to big game situations.
In addition to being a member of the Triple Gold Club (consisting of Winter Games gold, IIHF gold and a Clarkson Cup), she has also won the NCAA Frozen Four championship, a rare grand slam in women’s hockey. Among an elite group of women (including Hefford and Wickenheiser) that have three Winter Games gold medals in ice hockey, Ouellette has carved a remarkable career since debuting with the Canadian team in 2000.
As the third-leading scorer in Canadian history with 238 points, she has symbolized the world-class status of Canada as an elite hockey power. One of the greatest goals in her career was the gold medal winning tally that brought Canada the 2012 IIHF world title, truly testament to her longevity in the game. Her leadership skills on and off the ice, complemented by a love of the game and a humble demeanor, whether it be with the Montreal Stars of the CWHL or the Canadian contingent, make her a highly valued player and teammate.
While the captaincy was truly the only remaining honor left in her storied career (besides nomination in the Hockey Hall of Fame), there is no denying that everyone on Team Canada provides their own type of leadership. Many of the women on the Canadian contingent have served as captains on their own teams in CWHL and NCAA play making the push for a fourth consecutive gold truly a team effort.
As the next stage of the road towards Sochi includes a pre-Winter Games camp in Austria, the reality of Ouellette being appointed Canada’s captain is an opportunity to celebrate her career. Considering Hefford and Wickenheiser are the only other women to have played at least 200 games with Canada, they will certainly be key support for Ouellette as the three compose the best group of captains among all the competing teams in Sochi.