Size doesn't stop Canada's Jocelyne Larocque from playing a gritty game
Defenceman brings intensity to Team Canada despite small stature
Technically speaking, there is no hitting in women's hockey.
But we all know that isn't exactly the case. Games can get mighty physical and there can be plenty of body contact. And the more important the game, it seems, the more physicality there is.
- Sting of 2014 rejection keeps Canada's Bailey Bram motivated
- Canada's Haley Irwin will play key role in pursuit of Olympic gold
With that in mind, meet Jocelyne Larocque of Team Canada. On the smallish side at five foot six and 139 pounds, the veteran defenceman from Ste. Anne, Man., takes no prisoners on the ice. Push her and she'll push back, only harder. Get in her way when she's chasing down a loose puck and there's a very good chance you'll end up on your backside.
No hitting? Pfft!
"She's probably 140 pounds soaking wet and yet she plays like she's 180 pounds," said Team Canada teammate Bailey Bram. "If you go in the corner with her, there's very little chance you're coming out with the puck. You look at her and think, 'You're such a tiny little thing,' but when she puts her game face on you're not going to get by her."
Larocque and Team Canada will face the United States in the gold medal game of the Four Nations Cup in Tampa Bay Sunday afternoon. Team USA finished the preliminary round with a perfect 3-0 record while Canada was 2-1. Finland and Sweden will play for third place.
Playing with an edge
Larocque said playing the game with a bit of an edge was necessary from the first time she strapped on skates.
"I grew up and I was quite small so I think I always played with grit and hard work to make up for my lack of size compared to most of the other players," the 29-year-old said. "It has always been a part of my game."
Now very well entrenched on Team Canada, Larocque, like many others, experienced growing pains in her effort to make Canada's national team. She was part of the team's centralization group in 2009 as it prepared for the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver. She did not, however, make the team.
"I was 20 years old at the time and it was all so new to me," said Larocque, who helped the University of Minnesota Duluth win the NCAA championship after being released from Team Canada. "Obviously it was disappointing being released, but I felt I did the best I could so at the end of the day I had no regrets."
In her four years at UMD, Larocque was a dependable defender who scored 13 goals and 87 points in 104 games. Good numbers, she admitted, but offence was not her No. 1 motivation.
"I take a lot of pride in my defensive game and I hold myself to a high standard," Larocque said. "I do what I have to do and if that means being physical, so be it. I try not to retaliate, but I love the physical side of the game."
'She's tough, but she's so smart'
Having grown up with Larocque in Ste. Anne, Bram knows exactly what her teammate brings to the table.
"She's tough, but she's so smart," Bram said. "She is so defensively great, but she can also jump up in the play and help on offence."
A tremendous skater, Larocque has the ability to control the pace of the game. Against Finland in Team Canada's 4-0 victory Thursday, Larocque was one of the most noticeable players on the ice. She jumped into the play frequently, but never at the compromise of her defensive duties.
"That comes from her ability to read the play and from knowing what to do on the ice," said Team Canada coach Laura Schuler. "She is definitely one of our smartest players."
Schuler added Larocque is a fierce competitor who is physically strong.
"She's a versatile player that we always use on the penalty-kill, but we also sub her in on the power play," Schuler said. "She brings a ton of experience and great leadership."
Undeterred after being cut from the 2010 team, Larocque came back hard and made the 2014 Olympic team that won the gold medal in Sochi, Russia. Now a veteran on the team, Larocque said she tries to lend a hand to the younger players.
Important to remain calm
"I believe everyone can be a leader regardless of your age," Larocque said. "That said, I enjoy helping the rookies. I love to answer their questions."
Larocque said it is important in her game to remain calm. She said she loves to go up against the opposition's best players and in order to be successful, she needs to play with discipline.
"I have always been very calm and composed on the ice," Larocque said. "That way I think I can help others when they are feeling a little flustered. Perhaps I can calm them down a bit."
During this season's centralization process, Larocque is staying with an aunt and uncle in Cochrane, Alta. Her gold medal sits on a nightstand beside her bed.
"To be honest, as time goes on, I look at it less and less," Larocque said.
Perhaps it's time to go and win another.