Canadian Olympian could be trading goalie gear for chef's hat

Four-time Olympic gold medallist Charline Labonte may soon be trading in her goaltending equipment for an apron and a chef's hat.

Charline Labonte has won 4 Olympic gold medals with women's national team

Charline Labonte, goaltender for the Canadian Olympic hockey team, is seen at Les Demoiselles restaurant on Wednesday in Montreal. Labonte may soon be trading in her goaltending equipment for an apron and chef's hat. (Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press)

Charline Labonte may soon be trading in her goaltending equipment for an apron and a chef's hat.

While the four-time gold medallist with Canada's Olympic women's hockey team hasn't given up on playing quite yet, she is already planning a career after hockey in a professional kitchen.

Her classes at the Ecole des Metiers de la Restauration et du Tourisme de Montreal, a top school for aspiring chefs, begin Nov. 7.

"I want to put myself in situations where I don't have any regrets at the end and one thing that always came back into my mind was cooking," Labonte said. "I've always loved cooking, going way back.

"Now that I'm coming to the end of my hockey career, I just decided 'why not give it a try,' pursue that passion of mine and see if it's going to take me anywhere. If it doesn't end up anywhere at least I've tried and I'll just be a better cook for my family."

The 34-year-old is getting herself ready by working part-time at Les Demoiselles, a restaurant and coffee shop, under chef Vanessa Trahan, a graduate of the same school.

Busy schedule

It will make for a busy schedule because Labonte will continue playing for the national team and for Les Canadiennes of the Canadian Women's Hockey League as well as working one day per week as a goalie coach at McGill University, her alma mater.

"It's going to be tough," she said. "I want to coach at McGill and give back to the program that made me what I am today and gave me an education.

"I still love playing, training every day and trying to keep up with the young kids who are so good now. And now going to school again. It's definitely going to be challenging, but if that's what it takes, so be it."

But Labonte has always been up for challenges, and usually meets them.

After playing on high-level boys teams in Boisbriand, Que., she became only the second female to play in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, after goalie Manon Rheaume, when she was drafted by the Acadie-Bathurst Titan. The club had an opening in goal when Roberto Luongo turned pro.

She didn't think she had a chance to make the team, but ended up getting into 26 games in the 1999-2000 campaign, mostly as a backup, playing against future NHL snipers like Jason Pominville, Simon Gagne and Mike Ribeiro.

"It was an amazing experience," she said.

Experience paved the way

While the numbers, including a 5.22 goals-against average, weren't spectacular, the experience helped to put her on the national women's team, where she was an alternate on the Canadian squad that upset the United States to win gold at the 2002 Winter Games in Salt Lake City.

She started three games at the 2006 Games in Turin, Italy, including the final; got into only one game at the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver; then had two winning starts in Sochi, Russia in 2014 as Canada won its fourth straight women's hockey gold.

Labonte also won two gold and five silver medals at women's world championships, and helped the McGill Martlets to three Canadian Interuniversity Sport (now U Sports) national titles in five seasons, posting a 62-2 record against CIS opponents. She also earned a master's degree in sports psychology.

In 2013, she joined the Montreal Stars (now Canadiennes) and two years later was the CWHL goaltender of the year.

"I've been very lucky over my career to play for good teams," she said.

2018 ruled out

Labonte has yet to decide whether to play beyond this season, although she has ruled out playing in the 2018 Winter Games in South Korea.

"It's tough because I still love it," she said. "But I'm not getting any younger and the young goalies are pushing on the national team.

"It started last year with Emerance Maschmeyer and she was lights-out amazing. So there is competition there. The reality is that I've been there for 15 or 16 years. That's why I like to take it one year at a time and see where I'm at and analyse how I feel."