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

Two generations of Canadian female hockey heroes make heroic trek to North Pole

Less than three months ago, the final outcome of the women’s hockey event at the 2014 Sochi Winter Games may have seemed almost unthinkable for competitors Caroline Ouellette and Genevieve Lacasse. Competing for Canada in the gold medal game, the squad faced a 2-0 deficit in the third period.

An overtime come-from-behind victory was nothing short of a modern day Miracle on Ice providing Ouellette with her fourth gold medal, while Lacasse garnered her first. Such success in Sochi now seems like a precursor for facing adversity on an even bigger scale.

In collaboration with the True Patriot Love foundation, Lacasse and Ouellette were part of a remarkable trip to the North Pole. The motivation behind the journey was to pay tribute to Canada’s military troops and recognize the heroic sacrifices they made. Ouellette and Lacasse were part of a group of 53 dedicated and courageous individuals on a humanitarian mission of friendship, while hoping to raise awareness.

For Ouellette, a 14-year veteran of Canada’s national team, she has devoted many hours off-ice to numerous charitable causes. In addition to proudly serving as an RBC Olympian and an ardent supporter in the cure for breast cancer, Ouellette has also travelled to Africa with Right to Play.

After the Sochi Winter Games, Ouellette donated her time for a Hockey Helps the Homeless event near Montreal and a fund raiser for the Concordia Stingers women’s ice hockey team. One of Canada’s remarkable sporting humanitarians, Ouellette is a positive role model for the next generation of Canadian hockey heroines, such as Lacasse.

Beginning at Resolute Bay on Easter weekend, an average day for these hockey heroines consisted of dragging sleds in excess of hundred pounds for an average of 12-15 km a day. Supplies such as food (consisting of various meats for lunch and army rations and cheese for dinner), water and the camping gear accounted for the heaviness of the sleds. Adding to the challenge was the unforgiving temperature of -35 celsius while the sun shined on a continual basis.

Following a breakfast consisting of oatmeal, crackers, coffee and/or tea, tearing down the camp may be the most demanding part of the journey. Before continuing the journey towards the Arctic Circle, the task of tearing it down takes a minimum of three grueling hours. Afterwards, the skiing is divided into lengths of two hours each, with a 15 minute break in between.

With the constant cold presenting its own challenges, it forces all participants to be mentally tougher. As nighttime does not provide any relief in terms of temperature, attempting to keep warm was just as challenging as skiing through the day.

Escaping one’s comfort zone, it was an experience that certainly pushed world class athletes such as Ouellette and Lacasse to limits they may have never even conceived possible. Certainly, the opportunity for them to participate in the event with some of Canada’s soldiers (of which a dozen participated) helped them appreciate what members of the military can endure on a daily basis.

May 3, 2014 signified the end of the heroic journey as these two hockey heroes successfully completed the expedition with the rest of the brave individuals involved. The True Patriot Love expedition to the Arctic Circle was testament to the dedication and toughness that may be uniquely Canadian.

While Ouellette and Lacasse have returned to the comforts of home, they do so with the gratitude and appreciation of many proud Canadians and hockey fans the world over. During the week of May 4, Ouellette was recognized by the Montreal branch of the YWCA as she was bestowed with a Women of Distinction Award. Although more than a decade separates the two in age, Ouellette and Lacasse have been exposed to an event that will certainly generate a unique and special bond between the two.

Marie-Philip Poulin does it again as she nets second straight gold-medal winning goal

Following in the proud steps of Nancy Drolet, Marie-Philip Poulin becomes the second woman in the history of the Canadian program to score a pair of gold-medal winning goals. While Drolet helped Canada gain gold at the 1997 and 2000 IIHF Women’s Worlds, Poulin has scored at the 2010 and 2014 Winter Games, respectively. For both of these players, the chance to score such important goals places them in the same lore as Canadian male hockey hero Paul Henderson.

For Poulin, each one of her goals has provided Canada with tremendous riches on the world’s biggest stage. In 2010, Poulin would score twice in Canada’s 2-0 victory over the United States. Not only did it signify that a star was born for Canada, but it provided the squad with its first Winter Games gold on home ice.

Marie-Philip Poulin is all smiles after scoring the gold-medal winning goal for Canada (Photo credit: Ben Pelosse/Journal de Montreal/QMI Agency OLY2014)

Marie-Philip Poulin is all smiles after scoring the gold-medal winning goal for Canada (Photo credit: Ben Pelosse/Journal de Montreal/QMI Agency OLY2014)

Ironically, Poulin would score twice again versus the United States in 2014. With less than sixty seconds remaining, she would score on US backstop Jessie Vetter to tie the game. In overtime, a power play opportunity provided Poulin with the chance to become the first woman to log back-to-back gold-medal winning goals in the history of women’s hockey at the Winter Games.

While fellow Canadian Cassie Campbell became the first captain to lead her team to back-to-back gold medals in women’s hockey history (in 2002 and 2006 for Canada), Poulin follows her proud accomplishment.

This goal would have an even more profound meaning for the Canadian team. While it signified the fourth consecutive gold medal for Canada, a first among female hockey teams in the history of the Games, it also extended Canada’s unbeaten streak at the Games to an unprecedented 20 straight.

Taking an obligatory bite of the cherished gold medal (Photo credit: Ben Pelosse/Journal de Montreal/QMI Agency OLY2014)

Taking an obligatory bite of the cherished gold medal (Photo credit: Ben Pelosse/Journal de Montreal/QMI Agency OLY2014)

Perhaps the most satisfying aspect was the way her goal helped three of her teammates make their own unique bit of history. Dubbed as “The Pioneer Generation” by CBC Sports, Jayna Hefford, Caroline Ouellette and Hayley Wickenheiser helped write a new chapter in Canadian sporting history. Not only do the pioneers become the first three women to win four consecutive gold medals in women’s hockey, they are the first athletes to win medals for Canada in four consecutive Winter Games.

Representing a new generation of hockey heroes for Canada, the Sochi Games truly represented a passing of the torch. As the Pioneer Generation may have likely played in their final game, Poulin is ready to build on their proud legacy alongside the likes of Melodie Daoust, Natalie Spooner and Laura Fortino, to name a few.

Not even 25 years old, Poulin’s performances over the last two Games is nothing short of empowering. Already a member of the Triple Gold Club, having won IIHF gold, Winter Games gold and the Clarkson Cup, Poulin has one year of eligibility remaining at Boston University. The opportunity to help BU win an NCAA Frozen Four title or capture the Patty Kazmaier Memorial Award would serve to enhance a growing career that has reached, and exceeded, its promise.

Caroline Ouellette earns honor of serving as Canada’s captain in gold medal defense at Sochi 2014

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.