Genevieve Bannon poised to be Draft Day Gem for Les Canadiennes

With their first pick of the 2018 CWHL Draft, Les Canadiennes de Montreal acquired a highly dependable skater possessing both big-game experience and strong playmaking abilities. Enjoying a sterling collegiate career where she emerged as a key contributor towards the Clarkson Golden Knights capturing a pair of NCAA Frozen Four championships, the prized pinnacle of playing professionally in her home province is one step closer to becoming a fait accompli for Genevieve Bannon.

Raised in the Montreal suburb of Candiac, Quebec, the 5-8 forward, spent the 2017-18 season competing with Goteborg HC in Sweden. On the other side of the Atlantic, Bannon displayed a remarkable offensive flair. Amassing 53 points in 41 games played, her strong playmaking abilities resulted in a solid 38 assists, simultaneously contributing to an expanding legacy of Canadian-born talents shining on European ice.

Bannon’s international experience also includes a milestone akin to so many other members of Les Canadiennes; the prestige of wearing the Hockey Canada jersey. Gracing the ice at the 2013 IIHF U18 Women’s Worlds in Heinola and Vierumäki, Finland, Bannon was part of a gold medal winning roster, one of three players from Quebec, including Catherine Daoust and Catherine Dubois. As a side note, U18 teammates Halli Krzyzaniak, Eden Murray, Kimberly Newell and Sarah Nurse were also part of the 2018 CWHL Draft Class.

While such an exciting milestone supplied Bannon with a lifetime of memories, the golden glories were prologue for a pivotal four-year career filled with numerous triumphs at Clarkson University in Potsdam, New York. Donning the number 9 in the Clarkson Green and Gold, in tribute to her favourite hockey player, legendary Maurice “Rocket” Richard, Bannon captured a Frozen Four title in her freshman season (2013-14).

Playing alongside future CWHL draft picks such as Erin Ambrose, Renata Fast, Erica Howe, Shannon MacAulay, Cayley Mercer and Jamie Lee Rattray on that championship roster, Bannon joins a sensational sorority of hockey luminaries making the exciting leap into the professional ranks. Of note, her sophomore season saw another unique linkage to the CWHL. Joining the coaching staff were a pair of Clarkson Cup champions, Meghan Duggan, who hoisted the coveted Cup in 2013 with the Boston Blades, while Britni Smith, scored the Cup-clinching tally in 2014 with the Toronto Furies.

Over the last four years, the number of Golden Knights alumnae that have made inroads in CWHL hockey is quickly emerging as one of the league’s most recent legacies. From the likes of Howe and Rattray participating with Team Red in the inaugural CWHL All-Star Game, to the defensive duo of Ambrose and Fast being drafted in the same year by the Toronto Furies, other notable alumnae in league play include Lauren Dahm of the Worcester Blades while Mercer starred overseas in China during the Vanke Rays inaugural season.

Graduating from Clarkson in 2017 with her second national championship, it served as Bannon’s finest hour. Defeating the Wisconsin Badgers in the 2017 Frozen Four championship game, recording a pair of assists on goals scored by Savannah Harmon and Mercer, part of a 3-0 blanking. Complementing the euphoria of winning a championship included a pair of honors for Bannon, including a nod to the ECAC Second Team All-Star team, along with a selection to the NCAA Frozen Four All-Tournament Team. During such a memorable senior season, which also saw Bannon serve as an assistant captain, she amassed 53 points, placing second on the team.

The championship game also proved to continue the theme of unique connections that defined Bannon’s career in Potsdam. From the outset, former Montreal Stars goaltender Ann-Renée Desbiens was between the pipes for the opposing Badgers. In addition, Sarah Nurse, claimed second overall by the Toronto Furies in the 2018 CWHL Draft, was among the Badgers’ leaders on offense.

Adding to the sense of coincidence was the fact that the Golden Knights’ first game of that championship season was an exhibition tilt against Montreal’s Concordia Stingers. Not only have the Stingers recently produced a crop of draft picks for Les Canadiennes, but their head coach is franchise legend Julie Chu, who won three Cups with the Stars/Canadiennes franchise.

Worth noting, Bannon is joined by goaltender Shea Tiley as Golden Knights greats that are part of the 2018 CWHL Draft class, both looking to stake their claim in league lore. Although Tiley shall take on the role of opponent this season, selected sixth overall by the Toronto Furies, there is a much more profound Clarkson connection related to this pick.

Last season, the Furies shipped Ambrose to Les Canadiennes in the aftermath of her release from Canada’s Centralization Camp. Reaping a bounty of draft picks in exchange, the Furies also obtained Les Canadiennes’ first round pick in 2018, which proved to be the sixth pick overall. Not only was Tiley technically traded for Ambrose, a former teammate at Clarkson, Bannon’s entry into the professional hockey ranks allows her the opportunity to call Ambrose a teammate once again. Such familiarity should result in strong on-ice chemistry, making the adjustment to the CWHL much more enjoyable for a pair of players both entering their first full seasons with the bleu, blanc et rouge.

Although Les Canadiennes offense currently features two of the world’s finest forwards in Marie-Philip Poulin and Hilary Knight, the acquisition of Bannon provides a significant depth to the offense. As demonstrated at Clarkson, Bannon not only possesses strong playmaking abilities, capable of feeding the puck to skilled scorers, which Les Canadiennes have no shortage of, her greatest asset may be her willingness to learn and grow.

In three successive seasons with Clarkson, Bannon continued to set career highs in assists and points, reaching lofty career totals of 101 assists and 150 points, respectively. For a Montreal franchise looking to become the first-ever to win five Clarkson Cups, Bannon’s big game experience may be the suitable fit to make such ambitions an historic reality, bringing a consistency that has made her a valued teammate and significant asset on every team that she has skated for.

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