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A Word with a Team Canada Great

February 17, 2020, 4:02 PM ET [384 Comments]
Karine Hains
Montreal Canadiens Blogger • RSSArchiveCONTACT
Less than a year after the Canadian Women Hockey League folded, women’s hockey is being discussed a lot more than it ever has been and that is a good sign. Women trying to get more exposure for their sport is not a new phenomenon though and one woman has been trying to do so for quite some time. Former team Canada forward, Minnesota Duluth alumni and former Montreal Canadiennes player Caroline Ouellette has been coaching an all female pee-wee team at the Tournoi Pee-wee de Québec for 5 years running now and she’s as passionate as ever about it. It’s hard to think of a better candidate for the job really since she has some solid credentials not only as a player but as a coach. On the ice, she has won 4 olympic gold medals, 6 goal medals and 6 silver ones at the World Championships and she’s in the top 10 in NCAA scoring history. Coaching wise, she plied her trade as an assistant at the University of Minnesota, with the Concordia Stingers and with the Women’s National Under-18 Team.

Putting this team together is always a challenge since Ouellette and her staff need to pick the very best female players across Québec and make them come together as a team in a rather short period of time. This year, for the first time, they enjoyed two days of preparation together, getting to know each other, doing off-ice activities and video sessions before playing two exhibition games against pee-wee AAA teams. While the girls lost those 2 games to higher calibre teams, the coaching staff saw those as a chance to work on the defensive system and experience a lot of adversity. Thankfully, they won their third exhibition game and were very happy with the progress made over the last few days. They arrived ready to start their tournament at the Centre Videotron Sunday afternoon. This year’s team comprises players from 8 different regions of Québec and features a sole returning vet Renée Bishop, one of two twins as the other one (Rachel) is injured. Perhaps, one day, they’ll be Team Canada’s answer to Jocelyne and Monique Lamoureux who knows...

I couldn’t speak to Caroline Ouellette without getting her opinion on the current state of the women’s game. She thought the presence of the women at the All-Star Game skills competition was very positive and a great display of the sport which allowed for more fans to become aware and care about women’s hockey. She further added that they truly hoped that the future would involve a partnership with the NHL to create an all women league much like the NBA and the English Premiere League have done. Of course, the aim is not to get female players in the current NHL, the women need their own league. She adds that it’s with that goal in mind that the likes of Marie-Philip Poulin and Hilary Knight decided to join the Women’s Hockey Players Association and to take part in the Dream Gap Tour rather than join the current women’s league in the USA. While that one is still active, it is still plagued by the same difficulties which eventually led to the demise of the CWHL and the fact that so many of the top American players had chosen the CWHL over their own American league speaks for itself. Ouellette states that a rebuild is in order with new owners who care and want to grow the women’s game and that while it might not happen right away, it will happen one day. They are truly hoping to get the NHL’s involvement and feel strongly that it would be great for the league itself as well. Showcasing the women’s game could bring new fans to the game, girls and women who would then go and watch NHL games as well. Of course, the players are flexible and open to get on board with any kind of project which the NHL may be willing to offer, be it playing in the men’s offseason when fans are starved for hockey or trying new formats like the 3 on 3 at the All Star Weekend.

Ouellette doesn’t miss playing the game, she’s made her peace with retirement and states that becoming a mother did help with the transition. Apparently having a kid will keep you busy and focused on that, she chuckled when I asked if that was why there was a second kid on the way before saying that kids truly were her greatest accomplishment. On top of being one of the most successful female players of all time, Caroline Ouellette’s personal life also is a tremendous success, she met her partner, former Team America captain Julie Chu, when they were both working in youth hockey camps and immediately realized that they had some affinities. Back then, Ouellet was playing at the University of Minnesota and things just happened naturally. Despite the huge rivalry between Canada and America’s national teams, their relationship went down very well with their teammates since both of them were established players who played in a respectful way and had never given the other team a reason to hate them. Watching them take on each other the ice though, no one would have guessed that they were much more than just rivals.

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