— Nicole Hensley (@NicHens29) February 13, 2016
Caroline Ouellette leads all-girl pee-wee team into historically male tournament in Quebec.
The Tournoi international de hockey pee-wee de Québec is the most prestigious minor hockey tournament in North America. In its 57 year history, there have been a handful of girls who played in tourney, but not one team comprised entirely of girls. That is, until this year.
Led by four-time Olympic gold medalist, and current member of Les Canadiennes de Montreal, Caroline Ouellette, Équipe Québec Féminin, a AA pee-wee hockey team comprised of entirely 11 and 12 year old girls, makes history. The team played a tune-up game on Thursday against the all-boys squad out of Connecticut called … wait for it … the Doritos. (Could they be more American??) The ladies blanked the Doritos by a score of 3-0.
On Saturday night, the team goes up against the New York Americans in their first official game at the tournament. Behind the bench are two names you may be familiar with: Mike Richter and Mark Messier. The two former NHL’ers have sons that play on the team.
I spoke with Coach Ouellette about her lasting legacy in a sport she was almost kept out of playing. (English is not Caro’s primary language and I cannot thank her enough for doing the interview with me sans translator!)
Q. What does it feel like to have people refer to you as a ‘women’s hockey legend’?
CAROLINE OUELLETTE: I feel like I’ve been fortunate to have a long career, doing what I love the most. It hasn’t been hard, in a way, because there is nothing else in the world I would have rather been doing. I had to fight very hard to get the right to play. It was a different time. Girls didn’t really play hockey. I feel fortunate because I meet a lot women that are my age, or a bit older, and they tell me they would have loved to have played hockey, but were never allowed. So I feel very grateful I can still be playing, and that I was given the opportunity as a young girl.
You’re a trailblazer in the fact you had to fight to play. What was that like?
It was mostly convincing people to accept us. My first battle was my parents, was my dad. First for the right to skate. Then he wanted me to do ringette because that’s what girls were doing. He brought me to watch a game of that and I didn’t like it. My dream was to play for the Montreal Canadiens. I wasn’t going to achieve that by playing another sport. Finally my dad gave in. Since then he’s been my greatest supporter.
I think that the real trailblazers were France St. Louis, Cassie Campbell, the girls that came before even I started to play. I was fortunate because I feel like I was able to play with both generations, the younger girls today that are so skilled, so talented, and the girls that have to work full time and at the same time train for the national team. I really saw [evolution] of the game. All things have gotten better for the sport, for the athletes.
Can you imagine your life without hockey in it?
It’s funny. Sometimes I think about that and I don’t know what I would have liked to do if I really found another passion. It’s scary because I knew I loved it so much. For some reason it wasn’t expected that a girl wanted to play that sport so I now I can. Not only do I love to play, I love to coach, I love to teach the game. I think some players just love to play and that’s fine, but I love everything about the game. I think I was meant to be someone that would have played 82 games a season until June, that’s how much I love it. It’s scary to imagine what else I would have been doing.
What has your coaching experience been like?
I have my own camps. I have hockey camps in Montreal, in New Brunswick, in Newfoundland, in PEI, and I started a tournament last year. This year we had our second edition. I hosted 57 teams from novice to peewee.
I want to grow the game and give girls the opportunity to try the game because for me it’s not there enough, still. There is a lot of sacrifices for parents because in Quebec there’s not that many players so parents have to drive a lot for practices, for games. Equipment is expensive. Without being given the opportunity to try, it’s hard to know if you’re really going to love it. So I think the first is to have your kids learn to skate. Once they have that base, trying hockey is much easier. Within my tournament, we have programs to help girls try hockey. I had 90 girls come and try hockey for the first time, so it was really rewarding.
How does it feel to have gone from a girl who had to convince her dad to play hockey to a four-time gold medalist who has camps across Canada? Do you ever say to yourself, “I kick ass!”?
What makes me very proud is when I go to smaller towns, like in Newfoundland, for a lot of those girls they still play with the boys because they don’t have enough players. For them, and often in New Brunswick, too, it’s their first all-female camp. That’s one thing that makes me really proud. I never experienced that. I never played with the girls until I was 15, 17 and above that.
Another thing that makes me very proud is when I see my coaching staff, which I’m able to bring some Olympians with me, some players from Les Canadiennes. Last year there were eight of us that traveled to the Maritimes, and seeing them demonstrate skills, the puck skills, the skating skills, and seeing the little girls looking at them. Being able to provide them with successful role models, not only in hockey, but all my teammates have been successful in college as well. Knowing that we don’t have the choice, we don’t make a living playing hockey, so you have to go to school, you have to graduate from college so you can start working after. That’s two things that makes me proud: offering female role models and growing female coaches, too.
Could you see yourself as a general manager of a team professional team one day?
I actually love all the logistics and the thinking and event planning within a tournament. I love to coach, too. I think one of my dreams would certainly be to go back to the Olympics as a coach one day. Knowing that my playing career has a little left ahead, I know I have to go back and do the work, and start coaching at the lower levels and learn as I go.
With my tournament, we put together a pee-wee All-Star team and we’re going to the prestigious Quebec International Pee-Wee Tournament. It’s the first all-female pee-wee team that’s going and it’s a male tournament, a boys’ tournament. We’re going to play in Pee-Wee AA against the boys. It’s a huge deal. It’s received a lot of media attention, and the tournament is being pretty smart. They’re having us face the New York Americans in our opening game. Actually the coaches are Marc Messier and Mike Richter from the New York Rangers. Their sons are on the team.
That’s awesome. What do you tell your girls about facing a boys team?
A lot of the girls already play with the boys. I have almost half and half; half that play with the girls and half that play with the boys. I think just being part of that tournament is something very unique. Julie Chu and Charline Labonte both experienced it in pee-wee and it’s their favorite minor hockey memory. That’s pretty neat to be able to offer this opportunity.
I’m going to be coaching with two other Olympians, Marie-Philip Poulin and Kim St-Pierre. So it’s going to be the three of us against the two NHL Stanley Cup champions on the other bench. It’s very cool.
You three could wear your gold medals (9 total) and ask them how many they have.
[Laughs] That’s a good point.
PODCASTS & VIDEO
Don’t Snow the Goalie: NWHL front-office shakeup and discussing investment by a player’s parents.
Union and Blue Radio: Turmoil in the NWHL, the future of the two women’s leagues, and women in sports!
Rink Around the Rosies: Talking Chelsea Laden’s debut in goal and what the Riveters need to do in order to improve.
Finally, Les Canadiennes put out a publicity video that’s mostly in French. Even if you don’t speak the language, you understand the meaning and the kids in it are adorable.
AROUND THE RINKS
FMC Ice Sports pledges funds from Valentine’s Day public skating events to Denna Laing organization as a part of a larger Denna Laing Day celebration on Sunday. [Boston Globe]
A (hockey) league of their own. A lot can happen in 25 years. [Minnesota Hockey Journal]
Women’s hockey is growing, but still far behind in pay. [Care 2 Causes]
Jaimie Leonoff’s dad, Joel, is uncovered as one of the mystery investors in the NWHL. [espnW]
NWHL and CWHL: Playoffs and chaos. [Victory Press]
A Tale of Two Sisters: Bram siblings play in separate women’s leagues. [Along The Boards]
Love blossoms in goalie crease for Ben and Jenny Scrivens. [Montreal Gazette]
Marie-Philip Poulin’s office is cold, damp and crowded. Often times it is maddeningly loud, with thousands meticulously observing her every move. [The Link Newspaper]
Tatiana Rafter of the Beauts writes about her life as a pro hockey player. [THW]
Fan trip with the Boston Blades to Montreal has been cancelled, revealing possible issues for the CWHL [ATB]
Q&A with Celeste Brown of the New York Riveters. [The Hockey Writers]
A conversation with Boston Blades GM Krista Patronick. [My W Sports]
Boston Pride’s special teams dominate play. [ATB]
You’ve been Thunder struck. Fancy stats look at the success of Brampton. [ATB]
Three improvements the Buffalo Beauts can make to ensure success going forward. [Today’s Slapshot]
Blayre Turnbull’s life: get up, work out, hockey practice, work, go home, sleep. [NG News]
Interview with Beth Hanrahan of the Riveters. [Blueshirt Banter]
The CWHL is more than a game; it’s an experience. [Eyes on the Prize]
Anya Battaglino brings heart of gold to Connecticut Whale [Women’s Hockey Life]
And if the next Sidney Crosby was … a woman? Chatting with Les Canadiennes Meg Hewings. (French) [L’actualité]
THE BIG SHOW
— CWHL (@TheCWHL) February 8, 2016
Les Canadiennes de Montreal (18-2-0) at Calgary Inferno (14-4-2) – 8:15pm ET (Stream: CWHL Live $$)
Les Canadiennes de Montreal at Calgary Inferno – 12:00pm ET (Stream: CWHL Live $$)
Brampton Thunder (14-6-1) at Toronto Furies (6-16-1) – 8:00pm ET
Buffalo Beauts (4-8-3) at New York Riveters (3-10-2) – 2:00pm (Stream: Cross-Ice Pass)
Connecticut Whale (12-3-0) at Boston Pride (11-3-1) – 3:00pm (TV: NESNplus; Stream: ESPN3)
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