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

Bettez and Chartrand shine for Montreal Stars with numerous accolades

In a season that saw the Montreal Stars finish with the best win-loss record, it was only fitting that two of their finest added some hardware on CWHL Awards night. Representing a new generation of stars for the bleu, blanc et rouge, Ann-Sophie Bettez and Cathy Chartrand continued to build on the momentum of their superlative 2012-13 rookie campaigns.

Following up on her 2013 CWHL Rookie of the Year Award triumph, Ann-Sophie Bettez earned two awards. She would begin by claiming the Angela James Bowl, awarded to the highest scoring player during the CWHL regular season. In 23 regular season games, Bettez led the league in goals (16), assists (24), points (40), plus/minus rating (+23) and game-winning goals (7). Such a performance also garnered Bettez the league’s Most Valuable Player Award.

In Stars lore, Bettez becomes the fourth member of the franchise to claim the scoring title. Following in the paths of Sabrina Harbec (2010), Caroline Ouellette (2011) and Meghan Agosta-Marciano (2012, 2013), it also marks the fifth consecutive season that a member of the Stars claims the title.

Another unique aspect in the road towards the scoring title for Bettez was the fact that the top four scorers in the league all played for Montreal. The runner-up for the scoring title was Sarah Vaillancourt, who registered 35 points. Finishing in third was Vanessa (Vinny) Davidson with 31 points.

Of note, Davidson led the league in power play goals with eight while becoming one of three Stars players to reach 100 career points during the campaign. Ranking fourth with 30 points was Cathy Chartrand, only the second team captain in franchise history. Considering that Davidson, Bettez and Chartrand played together for the nationally ranked McGill Martlets in Canadian Interuniversity Sport, they are proudly building a new legacy of remarkable women’s hockey in Montreal.

While Chartrand tied with Davidson for the league lead in power play assists with 13, she managed to lead all defenders in scoring with 30 points. Statistically, she was also the top scoring defender in goals (9), assists (21), plus-minus rating (+18) and power play goals (4). Of note, it marked the second consecutive season that she was the scoring champion among defenders. For her efforts, she was recognized as the CWHL Defender of the Year.

Boston rookie defender Blake Bolden, the first African-American selected in the first round in the history of the CWHL Draft ranked second to Chartrand with 19 points. Of note, Bolden’s 19 points were good enough to lead all rookie defenders. Of note, Chartrand was the only defender to finish in the Top 10 in the CWHL scoring race. Along with Bolden, they were the only two ranked in the Top 25.

Perhaps the most impressive stats for Bettez and Chartrand were their scoring streaks. Bettez would open the season by registering at least one point in the first 21 games of the season. Said streak began on November 9, 2013 for Bettez in a 2-1 loss to the Boston Blades and continued until March 2, 2014, a 3-2 triumph against the Toronto Furies.

Ironically, the streak would come to an end against the Boston Blades. The Stars’ March 8 fundraiser for breast cancer would see Bettez left off the score sheet for the first time all season. During her remarkable streak, the Stars enjoyed a sparkling 18 wins, compared to only one regular season loss and two losses in overtime. On three separate occasions, Bettez registered four point performances. She would log two goals and two assists in wins against Brampton (January 12 and February 8), while a hat trick and one assist versus Boston on January 18 represented her finest performance.

Another streak that Bettez put together was eight games with at least one goal. Beginning on January 11 versus Brampton, it would also end against the same club on February 8. Scoring 13 games during the streak, Montreal boasted a 7-0-1 mark, outscoring opponents by a cumulative mark of 43-17.

Similarly, Chartrand would open her season with a 12-game scoring streak. With the Stars enjoying a 10-1-1 mark during Chartrand’s streak, it would set the tone for the season. During the streak, Chartrand’s best performance was a three-point effort on January 12, a 9-2 whitewashing of Brampton.

In the last 11 games of the season, Chartrand would log a point in seven of them. When Chartrand registered a point during that stretch, Montreal boasted a 7-0-0 mark. Perhaps more impressive was the fact that Montreal went 8-0-1 when Chartrand scored a goal in regular season play.

Considering how the complexion of the Stars had changed for 2013-14, with the inclusion of eight rookies, the leadership and presence of Bettez and Chartrand was invaluable. As many of the franchise’s original leaders are entering the twilight of their careers, the impact of Bettez and Chartrand not only promises that the strong tradition of winning is secure but it guarantees that the future is in tremendous hands.

Milestone game for CWHL co-founder Liz Breton as she earns 100th point of her storied Stars career

Having logged career point 99 before the holiday break, Montreal Stars fans eagerly awaited with anticipation as to when Lisa-Marie Breton-Lebreux would hit the magical century mark. The historic moment would come on January 11 at Arena St. Louis as the Stars continued to extend their stranglehold on first place in the CWHL standings.

With the remarkable rookie crop this season, the opportunities for history during this season seem limitless. For one magical moment in time, a remarkable veteran left her mark on January 11. Fans at Arena St. Louis were treated to a historic game as Breton-Lebreux contributed a goal in a 4-1 victory.

In action against the Brampton Thunder (Photo credit: Marc St. Pierre)

In action against the Brampton Thunder (Photo credit: Marc St. Pierre)

Emmanuelle Blais would open the scoring in the first period as she slipped the puck past Brampton backstop Sonja van der Bliek. Although it would be the only goal of the period, van der Bliek was tested often as she faced 14 shots and four Montreal power plays.

Simply 56 seconds into the second stanza, Ann-Sophie Bettez would add to the Stars lead. Of note, she has scored in every Stars contest since the season began. Blais and Vanessa (Vinny Davidson) would earn the helpers. Although Brampton would be on the penalty kill three times in the stanza, the red and black had managed to keep Breton-Lebreux off the scoreboard.

As the third period opened with Lindsay Vine serving a holding penalty, the Stars would capitalize through one of the most exciting goals of the season. Scoring at the 39 second mark, Breton-Lebreux logged the goal that would see her reach the magical century mark in her storied career. Earning the assists on the historic marker were Sara Dagenais and Carly Hill. To a roar of approval from the fans in attendance, it was a moment of validation, proving that Breton’s efforts in helping to launch the franchise and the league had yielded ground breaking results.

Despite the fact that Brampton would spoil the moment ten seconds later as Sarah Moe snapped Catherine Herron’s bid for a shutout, Montreal was not going to relinquish their lead. Before the period would expire, Blais would contribute her second goal and third point of the game.

With one of the assists credited to Cathy Chartrand, it symbolized a true passing of the torch. As Breton-Lebreux was the first captain in Stars history, and the longest serving in CWHL history, she had selected Chartrand to succeed her as captain prior to the beginning of this season.

For fans of the Montreal Stars, making history has been a predominant theme in Breton-Lebreux’s Hall of Fame worthy career. As the CWHL co-founder and first captain to claim the Clarkson Cup, she has proven to be a remarkable modern day builder for the sport in Montreal.

Along with the remarkable contributions of former coach Patrick Rankine, Breton-Lebreux has transformed the Montreal Stars into the world’s greatest women’s hockey team. With a renaissance of women’s hockey at the university level in Montreal, it has marked a golden era in the game for the hockey mad city and a legacy complemented by Breton’s tireless efforts.

Lisa-Marie Breton-Lebreux shows tremendous act of leadership by passing on her captaincy

Although Montreal Stars living legend Lisa-Marie Breton-Lebreux is far from being long in the tooth, she has made a bold move by relinquishing her captaincy. Such an act is symbolic of the unselfish and team-first approach that Breton-Lebreux has employed throughout her storied career.

Image by Pasquale Stalteri

Image by Pasquale Stalteri

Whether it was leading the Concordia Stingers to CIS national titles as an All-Canadian or helping establish the Montreal Stars as one of the most prominent women’s teams in the world, she approached every victory as a team effort. In looking towards establishing a strong future for the Stars, Breton has appointed Cathy Chartrand to be her successor.

Like Breton, Chartrand also knows what it means to don the captaincy at the CIS level. Having served as team captain for the McGill Martlets program, she has also had the distinction of earning All-Canadian nods while claiming a CIS national crown. As the scoring champion among defenders during the 2012-13 CWHL season, Chartrand also holds the distinction of having manned the blueline for the Canadian national team.

Heading into the 2013-14 season, Breton-Lebreux had the opportunity to carve a unique mark for herself. Had she chosen to retain the captaincy, she would have been the longest serving captain in all of pro hockey this year. Ottawa Senators (NHL) captain Daniel Alfredsson held that honor last season yet he signed with the Detroit Red Wings during the off-season.

Considering the level of prestige that would have surrounded Breton-Lebreux had she remained captain, her focus has always remained on the team first. It is that quality which makes her a true leader. As the first captain in CWHL history to win three Clarkson Cups, she would be the first to attest that those victories came as a team effort.

For the new faces that comprise the Stars roster this season, hardcore fans can only hope that the rookies understand what Breton-Lebreux has meant towards building their game. To play with her would be the equivalent of playing baseball alongside Lou Gehrig or football with Jim Thorpe. She is one of those players that have proven that it is not about how many points you score. It is about being fundamentally sound and doing the little things right (which will take care of the bigger things).

As a side note, Breton-Lebreux is one of only two co-founders of the CWHL still competing. The other founder still remaining is Sami Jo Small, who stands between the pipes for the Toronto Furies. Of note, the other founders included Jennifer Botterill, Mandy Cronin, Allyson Fox, Kathleen Kauth and Kim McCullough.

Although her tenure as captaincy signified a remarkable chapter in Montreal hockey history, the most positive aspect is that Breton-Lebreux relinquished the captaincy on her own terms with grace and dignity. The opportunity to name her own successor is a gesture of respect bestowed upon her by the organization.

There are many players who state that they do not need a letter on their jersey to signify their leadership. Breton-Lebreux truly fits that description. Renowned throughout the league as a class individual who genuinely cares for her teammates, she quietly goes along with an ethereal serenity which is complemented by a remarkable wisdom for the game. For her contributions as Montreal’s captain during the nascent years of CWHL hockey, fans and players alike owe her a debt of gratitude.