Caroline Ouellette hits milestone with Canadian women's hockey team
Joins Wickenheiser, Hefford at 200-plus games with squad
Caroline Ouellette had no idea what was coming when acting captain Jayna Hefford asked her teammates to gather around for a presentation in Team Canada's dressing room Friday morning. Hefford sauntered over to Ouellette and gently slipped a bright red Superwoman-like cape over Ouellette's shoulders, with 200 in gold numbers across the back.
Ouellette was set to join an elite club. When the Montreal native took her first shift in Friday's 8-0 win over Finland, it was the 200th time she has worn Team Canada's colors on the world stage.
Ouellette is third overall in all-time games, behind Hefford, with 248, and Hayley Wickenheiser with 256. The veteran trio is also the top three all-time scorers, with Ouellette in third place with 230 points.
"I had no idea that (the announcement) was what it was. It was very special,'' Ouellette said before the game. She was returning to the line-up after missing a 13-0 win over Switzerland with the proverbial upper-body injury.
"It is very special and it is a great moment. I can't believe it and I never expected it that is was my day."
Meghan Agosta-Marciona paced Canada's attack with three goals against the Finns before a record-setting crowd of 18,013 at ScotiaBank Place. The previous single-game attendance record for a woman's game was 16,346 set in Ottawa on Jan. 1, 2010.
In Friday's other games, the United States beat Switzerland 5-0, Russia beat Sweden 4-0 and Germany beat the Czech Republic 6-3.
Under a new format this year, the top four teams according to international rankings were in Group A, and the top two finishers after the relegation round, Canada and the USA, received a bye to the semifinals.
The third and fourth place team in Group A – Finland and Switzerland – advanced to the quarterfinals along with the top two teams in Group B, Russia and Germany respectively. Finland faces Germany and Russia takes on Sweden in the quarter-finals.
The two remaining teams – Sweden, the 2006 Olympic silver medalist, and the Czech Republic, play in a relegation round, with the loser being demoted to the world B Pool.
Growth and evolution
Ouellette was 11 years old when the first women's championship was staged in Ottawa in 1990.
"I have been on the team since 1998 and I have not missed many games over the years. I feel so lucky and privileged to be that long on the national team and it has been an incredible journey."
"I have always talked about the people who were not able to play hockey, to the women who are just a bit older than me and it was not allowed when they were young, and for them and for all the little girls, it is a true honor to represent your country."
Much has changed since Ouellette joined the national team.
With more and more girls playing the game, Hockey Canada has poured more money into development teams. When Ouellette played her first game for Canada, there wasn't the elite national Under-22 program and the Under-18 teams developing players for the national women's team.
Ouellette has seen women's hockey gain more acceptance with fans of the game, and feels more people would be attracted to the game if the rules were changed to allow for more physical play.
"I want it to be played physical without being dirty. I would like to see more body contact allowed along the boards. I think it makes for great games for the fans. We want to play hard and we want to play tough and I think other countries want to too.
"I am all for a very physical game that is played clean."
Ouellette is a presence on the ice. Given that most of goals in the women's game are scored from the hash marks between the faceoff circles and in, Ouellette is at her best when she crashes the net looking for a rebound. She rarely scores the so-called pretty highlight reel goals because that is not her game.
Head coach Dan Church called Ouellette an "inspiration" for his younger players.
"Caroline has had a phenomenal career and a lot of the younger players have watched her play in the Olympics and they look up to her. And to get to 200 games with our national team, it will get harder and harder to get to that level with the quality of players we have coming through our under-18 and under-22 programs. So to keep this position for that length of time is pretty special."
While Ouellette's teammates were happy she reached the milestone, they weren't going to let it get to her head.
"C'mon Caroline, walk the runway like a model,'' shouted Tessa Bonhomme to the caped Ouellette as the veteran forward met with the media.
Meanwhile, Church announced that Wickenheiser would miss her second straight game Friday because of injury.
"She is improving and I expect her to target Monday. It is still day to day but she is progressing towards that."