Everyone wins at Caroline Ouellette Hockey Festival

In a year that saw Caroline Ouellette become the CWHL’s all-time leading scorer, followed by a final yet inspiring appearance with Canada’s national women’s team in Malmo, Sweden, such a memorable 2015 has culminated with the second annual Caroline Ouellette Hockey Festival. Its success was quickly assured with a remarkable doubling in the number of registered players.

Held at Le Centre Etienne-Desmarteau, home of the CWHL’s Canadiennes de Montreal, the significant increase in registered players resulted in the need to use two rinks at the centre. Having also participated in the first annual Festival, Canadiennes captain Cathy Chartrand quickly noticed the increase in participants this year.

Chartrand’s presence does more than just set a strong standard of leadership, testament to her captaincy with Les Canadiennes. From also competing with the nationally renowned McGill Martlets and the Canadian national women’s team, an exceptional competitor such as Chartrand embodies the love of the game, which sends a positive message to the young girls in attendance at the Festival.

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“Compared to last year, there are so many more girls that have registered. It has roughly doubled. We had to use two rinks at the arena here as there was not enough ice time for just one rink.

At this level, the majority of us who continue to play with Les Canadiennes are passionate and even more passionate because of the sport. This event is a chance to pass it forward. When we were kids, we did not have the chance to participate in these kinds of events.”

Teamwork was definitely a defining factor at the Festival, as several members of Les Canadiennes graciously donated their time to participate as instructors, on and off the ice. Such dedication was not lost on Ouellette, who was very proud of their efforts,

“I am so thankful. I do not know how to thank them. During the on-ice skill sessions, there were eight of us on the ice. Mostly members of Les Canadiennes but we also had a few college players included. I was so proud to see the players demonstrate their skills to the young girls.

Many of these young girls had never seen such skills on the ice. For them to see that it was successful female hockey players showing them was important. They are at an age where they are still building their dreams.”

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Adding to the Festival’s impact was the presence of younger players from Les Canadiennes as instructors, displaying that the franchise’s future is in good hands. Among them were the likes of Katia Clement-Heydra and Cassandra Dupuis, two exceptional examples of local players that have realized their hockey dreams.

Despite both being rivals at the Canadian Interuniversity Sport level, Clement-Heydra with the McGill Martlets and Dupuis with Les Carabins de Montreal, even playing against each other in the gold medal game at the CIS Nationals, the two are unified in the collaborative goal of bringing Les Canadiennes its first Clarkson Cup championship since 2012.

Both under the age of 25, the two have seen the game experience unprecedented growth in the last decade. While there remain many more opportunities to reach newer heights, the two understand that fostering a positive future is just as important for the young players to absorb as the glories on the ice.

“To see the young players and see how talented they are, they are amazing. After the on-ice practices, to see their smiles, it is fantastic. To see the game evolve year after year is due to the chance to practice,” remarked Dupuis.

The first round pick of Les Canadiennes in the 2015 CWHL Draft, Katia Clement-Heydra is not only a former winner of the Brodrick Trophy, recognizing the best player in CIS women’s ice hockey, she was recently named to the 2016 CWHL All-Star Game. Possessing great potential, her outlook on the game is one that is very positive, observing the bigger picture and the great possibilities that it entails.

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“It is good to give back. To see these girls here and how we can make a difference in their lives. You never know when you can spark that little girls’ passion for the game. Sometimes, just being around them makes a difference.

During the on-ice practices, we enjoyed teaching them and giving them some of our knowledge. To be able to show them, and then see them do it afterwards, it is the most enjoyable part.”

Such sentiments were reciprocated by Ouellette’s teammates. Among them was Charline Labonte, one of the most accomplished goaltenders of her generation, male or female. Having played with Ouellette for over a decade on the Canadian national team, she is more than just a teammate, but a friend, one that is proud to participate in such an event,

“Certainly, I was proud to help. Caro is one of my best friends and we have always been teammates, especially for a very long time on the Canadian team. What she does for women’s hockey in Quebec, no one is more dedicated. I like to help out as much as possible. She has established a fantastic experience which cannot be compared.

Another teammate that has experienced glories with Ouellette on both the Canadian national team and the CWHL level is Marie-Philip Poulin. From capturing the first Clarkson Cup to a pair of Winter Games gold medals, Ouellette was an extremely positive influence in those formative years.

Marie-Philip Poulin looks on during on-ice action at Ouellette Hockey Festival

Marie-Philip Poulin looks on during on-ice action at Ouellette Hockey Festival

Already a hockey immortal, with a legacy that is entrenched in the hearts and minds of Canadian hockey fans, Poulin retains a remarkable perspective. Blossoming into an exceptional leader with strong maturity, she has found inspiration in Ouellette’s leadership and kindness.

The result is one where Poulin carries the torch with a sense of pride and importance. The chance to donate her time and participate in Ouellette’s Hockey Festival is a chance to reciprocate the appreciation and admiration of fans and teammates alike, setting a positive example. In addition, Poulin’s enjoyment and fulfillment from participating in such an environment emphasizes to the younger players that the key value for the game is fun.

“It is fantastic to be able to share in this great event. When you see how the kids have their eyes wide-opened, nothing is better than that.

This is an important event as we all want to see women’s hockey grow in Quebec. If we can give the next generation a great start with this event, it will be helpful.”

Along with Marie-Philip Poulin, Lauriane Rougeau was a teenage phenom who helped the former Montreal Stars capture the inaugural Clarkson Cup in 2009. After an exceptional career with Cornell University and a Winter Games gold medal in 2014, Rougeau has blossomed into more than just the future of Les Canadiennes, but a fine example of the game’s growth.

Surrounded by teammates from Les Canadiennes not only made the event so much more enjoyable, but it helped to reinforce the feeling of friendship and support, as the primary objective was fun. Considering that Rougeau was also part of the inaugural Festival in 2014, the chance to give back to the game is one that she cherished, working towards creating a positive experience for the young players on the ice.

“It was great. We did not use to have these kinds of tournaments when we were girls. To watch them play and have fun, get an opportunity to practice with Olympians, was great to see. To share this time with young girls, some who may dream to be future stars with the Canadian national team, it starts here. It is all about giving back.”

Having won two Clarkson Cups with Ouellette (and appeared in four finals overall), Emmanuelle Blais is in awe of her teammate and her remarkable contributions. Both alumnae of the University of Minnesota-Duluth, the two have also given back to the game as coaches. Of note, Blais volunteered in seasons past as a coach with the famed Dawson College. Her reflections truly place the event in a glorious perspective, hopefully setting the stage for an even more exciting event next year.

“She has been working all year long for this to happen. It is fun to see this event give little girls a chance to try the game for the first time. Caro is the type of person you want as a friend and as a teammate. She has such a big heart and she is always giving back. She knows where she was once and her support in this game is huge.”

“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”

Photo credits: Mark Staffieri

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