Team Canada hopeful from Manitoba 'devastated' world women's hockey tournament cancelled

Team Canada hopeful Jocelyne Larocque says her dreams of wearing the Maple Leaf at the women's world championships were shut down when the International Ice Hockey Federation announced the 2020 tournament's cancellation amid COVID-19 concerns.

Jocelyne Larocque's dreams of representing her country at the 2020 IIHF world championships are crushed

Multi-time Team Canada player and Olympic gold medallist Jocelyne Larocque from Ste. Anne, Man., says she's crushed the world championship has been cancelled due to coronavirus concerns. (Submitted by Canadian Sport Centre Manitoba)

Manitoban Jocelyne Larocque's hockey season — and her dreams of wearing the Maple Leaf at the world championships this year — have come to an abrupt close.

The 31-year-old, who plays left defence and is among the top prospects for Team Canada, says she fought in her final match of the season in Phoenix, Ariz. — just hours after the 2020 International Ice Hockey Federation women's world hockey championship was cancelled amid the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak.

Larocque first learned about the decision on this year's tournament in an unverified tweet, which she had confirmed by the team's managers.

"I was pretty devastated," she said, adding there had been whispers the international competition could get scratched, as several sporting events had already been shut down.

A statement posted to the Hockey Canada website indicates the women's world championship had been cancelled "due to the ongoing coronavirus risk."

"Under the recommendation of the chief medical officer of health of the province of Nova Scotia and the IIHF, it was determined the best course of action was to cancel the event," reads a statement from Hockey Canada CEO Tom Renney.

"This decision was made in the best interest of the players, fans, staff, volunteers and the general public, and we fully support the IIHF's decision," he said.

Until then, Larocque had remained hopeful, but the thought of missing another shot to compete on the world stage weighed down on her throughout Saturday's exhibition match.

With No. 3 on her back, Jocelyne Larocque celebrated with her Canadian teammates after the first goal of a 5-0 victory over Germany in the quarter-finals of the 2019 women's world championship in Finland. This year's tournament has been cancelled, the IIHF announced on Saturday. (Heikki Saukkomaa/Lehtikuva via AP)

"Our season's done. We're just looking to next year. It's pretty sad," she said. "I don't even know if it's fully sunken in."

Beleaguered league

Women who play hockey in Canada had their future aspirations crushed last March when the Canadian Women's Hockey League collapsed, citing a lack of funding and sponsors.

Larocque, who is of Métis heritage, grew up in her hometown of Ste. Anne, Man., a community 43 kilometres southeast of Winnipeg. She says the CWHL's closure prompted dozens of other Canadian players to band together to create a new professional players' association.

But without a league to play in, she spent this season playing in exhibition games and training camps every few weeks.

"We were all really looking forward to the world championships, more so this year than in any other year," she said. "So for that to be cancelled, and just the year that it's been, it's been a challenge."

Players participating in the Professional Women's Hockey Players Association's Dream Gap Tour in Arizona looked to each other for support.

"We all just kind of hugged each other and consoled each other," Larocque said.

Although she is still trying to come to terms with it, Larocque says she respects the IIHF's judgment. "I know they wouldn't take this decision lightly," she said, keeping in mind the safety of athletes, staff and fans.

As public concerns about the unknown impacts of coronavirus continue to rise, the high-level competitor says she strives to take proper precautions, and hones in on the things that are within her control.

"If you focus on every little thing that could go wrong, or anything scary, you know, it's not really a way I like to live," she said.

"At the end of the day, I just try to live my life and not be too scared."

Team Canada said it will go ahead with announcing its full roster late Monday or Tuesday of this week — despite the cancelled tournament.