Don’t worry hockey, I’m not going anywhere.
I am just shifting my focus to helping and mentoring others so they can also experience some of the joy you gave to me. To be honest, I never thought I could let go of playing hockey. I could not imagine saying goodbye to the game I loved so much, that defined who I was for so long and that altered how I carried myself and how I felt every day. But then along came Liv Chu-Ouellette and you changed everything. I never knew it was possible to love this much until I met you.
When the doctors placed you on my chest, I was immediately filled with so much love and a powerful desire to protect you against anything and everything. I had a lot to learn. It took me so long to put on your PJs for the first time that Julie, your other mom, laughed. You were just so little. You seemed so fragile. But I got better and I was able to figure out what to do. You got bigger and stronger and each time you looked at me, I was convinced nothing could possibly be more beautiful. Of course, that was until you started smiling, hugging me and crawling towards me. It’s true what they say; it gets better every day.
Certainly, it`s not always easy and sometimes I feel like I am running sprints within a marathon. But one of the greatest things is that I get to experience it with my best friend, Julie. She’s so fantastic with you, Liv, and she teaches me every day how to be a great mom. Liv, we have been on so many adventures together already. With you in my belly, we won the Clarkson Cup with Les Canadiennes de Montreal. This team has always felt like family to me and I could not wait to tell them, a few weeks later, that we had won with too many players on the ice.
Together, we coached at my first senior IIHF world championship, working long hours scouting and assisting the staff with team preparation. I was feeling exhausted and at times sick, but smiled knowing secretly that you were there with me. Then we coached 10 hockey camps in three provinces and the United States. Could you hear them, Liv? The young girls? How amazing to see them having so much fun playing and competing on the ice, and growing strong and confident through hockey.
Your mom, Julie, finally removed me from coaching duty, kicking me off the ice with four weeks left before your big arrival. You were born exactly two weeks after we watched Team Canada play Team USA at the Videotron Centre and only a few hours after we watched Battle of the Sexes in theaters (a movie inspired by Billie Jean King’s lifelong battle for recognition, respect and equality for female athletes in tennis). She’s one of my biggest heroes and role models and also the one who said ‘’Pressure is a Privilege.”
And what a privilege it was to play for Canada in front of the best fans and in the most spectacular sporting event, the Olympic Games. I cherished every moment of it. Throughout my 16-year career with the national women’s team, I believe I embodied what it meant to be an everyday player. I loved it through the highs and always put in the effort to come back from the lows. I wanted to do it over and over again after every event! I participated in four Olympic Games and was part of incredible teams that brought Olympic gold to Canada each time. Needless to say, there is nothing I would rather have accomplished.
Playing for Les Canadiennes
When I was a kid, my dream was to play for the Montreal Canadiens. Eventually, that came true in part when our organization was renamed Les Canadiennes. That`s where I had the great honour to play (and win) on Bell Centre ice. I am also very proud of the four Clarkson Cups that we won as Les Canadiennes/Les Stars. This week my friends Noémie Marin, Cathy Chartrand, Emmanuelle Blais and Catherine Herron are also leaving the game. I smile thinking of the great hockey memories made by these women. They challenged me, supported me and made me so much better.
I will miss the emotion of a thrilling victory. There is really nothing quite like it. I will miss the adrenaline that came with a game-winning goal, the rush in that moment that covered my body with goose bumps. I will also miss competing to win: every race, every battle, every small game or drill in practice. I’ll miss annoying my goalies by getting to every rebound first. My great friends Charlie and Kim could testify about years of “not-so-goalie friendly” shooting on my part.
I cannot explain it, but I know that I’ve always loved hockey. Liv, I hope you find your way to fall in love with something the way I fell for this sport. Can you believe that I almost did not play? Back then, joining a hockey team was not a thing girls did. It was after your grandma Nicole bought me my first hockey skates that your grandpa Andre finally gave in and signed me up for hockey with the boys. For eight full seasons, Liv, I was the only girl on my team. It was not always easy and it didn’t help that I was so shy back then. But when you truly love something, you can overlook the darker sides in order to focus on all of the happiness it brings you. I had strong allies: your Oullette grandparents both instantly became my biggest fans and sacrificed so much to make sure I could thrive while following my passion. Now, when I see you with grandma Nicole, I recognize how much I was loved and cared for.
Without your Ouellette and Chu grandparents, your moms would have never been able to pursue such demanding coaching careers. I would never have been able to return to the ice 53 days after you were born to play the rest of Les Canadiennes’ season. So was it such a crazy idea? It was a challenge for sure, but I think my entire career prepared me for it. I wanted to prove to myself that I could reach this goal and I had the mindset to achieve it.
Liv, you inspire me to keep fighting to grow girls’ and women’s opportunities. Imagine if female hockey athletes could fully invest themselves in their sport? If they truly had their own professional hockey league where women could play and be supported to do so. How great could our sport become? How much stronger would communities be worldwide, if they contained accomplished female leaders who are forged in the school of sports?
Today, I am turning the page on my playing career, but surprisingly, I am fully at peace with it. I am thrilled with what is ahead for me as a mom and coach. An exciting season is also ahead with the Concordia Stingers. I will remain part of Les Canadiennes and I will be at the 4 Nations Cup as a coach with Team Canada. The fifth edition of the Girls Hockey Celebration will be held in December and from that we will select the best young players to take part in the prestigious Quebec International Peewee tournament. To see so many young girls dream of real possibilities in our sport is such a rewarding gift!
Liv, if you do happen to like hockey, it would be cool, but really, no pressure. I want you to remember this important advice: “We all play for Canada!” I truly hope your family inspires you to feel that nothing can stop you in whatever you choose to devote yourself to. My greatest wish is that you will feel confident, strong, driven, and that you will always be kind to others. Each day by your side, Liv, is better and better.
Thank you to everyone who supported me and believed in me. You know who you are. You made a difference.
(Top and second large photo Alain Décarie/Radio Canada; Final large photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)