Team Canada captain Caroline Ouellette and goalie Charline Labonté say they didn't always feel welcome on the ice as girls who played hockey.
“We both grew up in the generation where there was no women’s hockey,” said Ouellette. "Personally, it took me three years to convince my parents to let me play hockey.”
Nobody needed convincing last week when 13 million Canadians watched the team win gold in a stunning comeback victory against the U.S. at the Sochi Olympics.
“Everywhere we went people were clapping and talking about where they were when they saw the game, saying it was one of the greatest games of hockey they’ve ever seen,” said Ouellette.
Both Labonté and Ouellette agree that it has taken a long time for women's hockey to get this kind of recognition. Neither of them even had the opportunity to play on a women’s team until they were 19 years old, because they weren’t available.
“Of the 13 million people who watched the games we hope there will be thousands of young girls who want to play hockey or any other sport and parents that are going to allow their daughters play the game, said Ouellette.”
The first women’s Olympic ice hockey tournament was held in Nagano in 1998, adding a new goal to reach for female players.
“I was fighting through the stereotypes that girls don’t play hockey or you’re weird if you do and I think it built us up both physically and mentally,” said Labonté.
Now, she says there are more opportunities for younger girls to get an early start in the rink.
“I think we are a little jealous of that generation, but it’s really rewarding to see,” said Labonté.
Though Ouellette says there have been big improvements since she first started playing the sport, there is still has a long way to go, especially in Quebec.
“I think in Quebec we have a lot of work to do. We have only close to 8,000 players while in Ontario they have close to 50,000,” said Ouellette.
She says the challenge today is to create programs where young girls can try the sport.
“The more players we have at the grassroots level, the better we will be at the top of the pyramid,” said Ouellette.