Canadian women's hockey star Sarah Vaillancourt retires
Hangs up skates after Canada's recent loss to Americans
Sarah Vaillancourt shed tears many times over the last year thinking that her injuries were forcing her into retirement from the Canadian women's hockey team.
The two-time Olympic gold medallist was able to announce her retirement Thursday with more satisfaction than sadness.
She represented Canada one last time at the world championship earlier this month in Ottawa.
"It was a perfect opportunity for me to really close the deal and enjoy my teammates one last time," Vaillancourt told The Canadian Press from her hometown of Sherbrooke, Que.
"It was perfect closure for me."
Vaillancourt won Olympic gold with Canada in 2006 and 2010.
The 27-year-old forward had 45 goals and 53 assists in 107 career games with Canada. She appeared in six world championships and won gold in 2007.
Vaillancourt's game is skill and sandpaper. She has the vision and quick hands of a playmaker, but is also a burr under the saddle of the opposition.
"She's got a lot of skill and talent, but she also plays a real tough game," Canadian head coach Dan Church said. "She's very hard to play against."
Vaillancourt played through 2010 with a hip injury that spiralled into other problems after the Winter Games.
She's had three surgeries since winning gold in Vancouver — one on her hip and two others for sports hernias. Vaillancourt hasn't played a full season of hockey since 2010.
"I was confronted with the idea of retiring many times in the last year," she said. "Initially I thought I was going to be forced to retire because of my body."
Vaillancourt didn't quit, however. She was surprised and pleased to be named to Canada's roster for the 2013 world championship given her lack of games and her two-year absence from the national team.
"My goal was to come back and play hockey and to do what I love so much," she said. "Worlds was a bonus. I was happy to be there, there was no way I was going to say no and I felt ready for it.
"In the last year, you can't count on both hands how many times I've cried about it and said 'this is it.' It wasn't it and I gave everything I had."
She scored twice and had five assists in five games in Ottawa, where Canada won the silver medal.
The world championship reinforced for her, however, the steep physical price she'd pay if she put her body through Canada's preparation for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.
Pursuing Masters degree
The women have a gruelling three-week boot camp this spring and will then train full time in Calgary from August until the Games.
"I was telling the girls at worlds 'I haven't lifted a weight in two years,"' Vaillancourt said. "You can't go into an Olympic year not having lifted a weight.
"If I wanted to push my body one more year, I probably could have, but I don't think it would have been beneficial for my future."
Church chose Vaillancourt for his world championship roster with the belief she would continue through another Olympics.
She told him just after the world championship final of her intention to retire.
"We're going to miss Sarah's talent, her abilities and skill set from our pool of players, but I think we have a real strong pool of players," Church said.
"I respect her decision. She knows her body. The battle and the rigours of the world championship obviously weighed in her decision."
Vaillancourt met with media in Sherbrooke to announce her retirement just a few hours after writing an exam at the University of Sherbrooke.
She has a psychology degree from Harvard and intends to pursue a Masters degree in education in the field of English as a second language. She and her girlfriend Renee-Claude Chevarie have bought a home in Sherbrooke.
Vaillancourt isn't hanging up her skates either. She'll continue to play for the Montreal Stars of the Canadian Women's Hockey League.
The highlight of her career was winning Olympic gold in Vancouver.
"Just having the chance to represent our country in our country and win the gold medal on top of it … I don't think anything will ever top that," she said.
Church is expected to name soon the players invited to try out for his 2014 Olympic team.
He's reduced the roster from 28 to 27 with Vaillancourt's departure.
"If there was another player like a Sarah Vaillancourt out there then maybe we would add her, but there isn't another Sarah Vaillancourt in our pool," he explained.
"We've covered all the bases in terms of the different areas we need to address in building our team. We're going to go with the group we have."