19 March, 2017

Winter Universiade A Momentous Milestone for Maude Laramée

Among the elite competitors from Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS) that gained the opportunity to compete for Canada in women’s ice hockey at the Winter Universiade, each brought their own set of experiences to the roster. For an outstanding blueliner such as Maude Laramée, whose career includes CIS All-Rookie Team honors and a national championship with Les Carabins de Montreal in 2016, her superlative skill set also consisted of international play.

During her inaugural season of CIS women’s hockey, Laramée, who was raised in Gatineau, Québec went across the interprovincial bridge into Ottawa, donning the Gee-Gees jersey. It was a sparkling season that would culminate with a brilliant performance against the Czech Republic national women’s ice hockey team in Rockland, Ontario.

The exhibition match not only provided the Gee-Gees players and staff with a proud accomplishment in their careers, it was an opportunity for the Czech Republic to prepare for Group B play at the IIHF Women’s World Championships, which were being hosted in Ottawa. Logging a pair of points in the match, Laramée’s prodigious skills indicated that she was destined for a future opportunity at international competition.

Fast forward to January 2017 and the newest chapter in Laramée’s career brings her across the Atlantic, venturing into Eurasia, to compete at the Winter Universiade in Almaty, Kazakhstan.  Attaining the goal of being named to Team Canada’s roster, the opportunity to don the Canadian jersey was the culmination of a dream come true, emblematic of the sacrifices made and the desire to make that extra effort. In reflecting on the first time that she donned the Hockey Canada jersey, it was an outpouring of emotion, symbolizing a hallowed hallmark,

“It felt really special. When you have played hockey all your life like I did, and you have worked to get better years after years, either by doing power skating camps, or having personal trainers in the summer, instead of going out with friends.

It is your dream to get to wear this jersey but (there) was also a lot of sacrifices. I felt really honored to get to represent my country in Almaty and at this point, I realized that all the sacrifices that I made were nothing besides getting to wear the jersey.”

Of note, Laramée was not the only star competitor from Les Carabins to wear the Maple Leaf on their jersey. As the defending national champions, the roster provided a wellspring of talent for Canada’s contingency. In addition to Laramée, the squad was proudly represented by Jessica Cormier, Catherine Dubois and Alexandra Labelle.

The opportunity also allowed Laramée the opportunity to get in touch with her Gee-Gees roots. Among the talented players from the RSEQ conference that competed for Canada included Melodie Bouchard, the prodigious scoring phenomenon who represents a new generation for the Gee-Gees.

Getting the opportunity to call Bouchard, who Laramée has only known as a rival in conference play, allowed for a new experiences while resulting in mutual respect between the two. Along with Alexandra Labelle, the three would provide offensive fireworks against Great Britain, combining for 11 points between them, featuring a hat trick by Bouchard.

“It was really comforting to have three of my Carabins teammates with me because at first I was really stressed to face this experience, but having them with me made it a lot easier to deal with. And it was really nice playing alongside Melodie Bouchard, who we usually play against. She is an amazing hockey player and it makes it so much easier to play with players like her.”

Statistically, Laramée compiled a solid seven points, logging points in the first three games of the Universiade. In Canada’s opening game, a convincing 9-1 victory against China, she would contribute an assist on a goal scored by Daley Oddy, a star forward for St. Francis Xavier University.

The offensive floodgates would burst in the second game of the Winter Universiade, as Laramée registered a game-best five points in a 14-0 blanking of Great Britain. Scoring twice in the first period, along with an assist on a goal by Alexandra Poznikoff, Canada held an astounding 8-0 advantage.

Of note, Kelly Gribbons and Erica Rieder would log the assists on her first goal of the tournament. By game’s end, Canada peppered 77 shots on a Great Britain, a valiant effort on the part of their goaltender, Samantha Bolwell.

An 11-0 shutout of host country Kazakhstan saw Laramée and fellow Carabins teammate Catherine Dubois register shutouts on Canada’s tenth goal of the game, scored by Kelty Apperson. Qualifying for the medal round with their win, Canada would best their eternal rivals, the United States, in an 8-1 final.

Returning to the gold medal game for the fifth consecutive time, becoming the first and only nation in the history of the Winter Universiade to achieve this feat, there was extra motivation for Laramée and her teammates. Although it was a proud achievement that all helped contribute to, the objective was to emerge with a gold medal, redemption for a visceral loss suffered against Russia in 2015.

With the equally ambitious Russian team returning to the gold medal game in 2017, it served as the setting for one of the most intriguing gold medal matches at the Winter Universiade, a dramatic rematch two years in the making. Such energizing anticipation and build-up was a catalyst towards Laramée experiencing her favorite moment of the Universiade. One in which a group of keyed up players felt their strongest sense of unification, affirmative that this was the ideal spot to be playing hockey on this momentous day,

“My favorite moment was the moment before the gold medal. That's when all the girls were closer, and the day of the gold medal game, we just could feel the positive vibe all day. Like I said, I played with amazing hockey players beside me and would not have wanted anyone else.”

Despite Canada’s best efforts to reclaim gold, which would have been its fourth in tournament history, Russia would become the second nation to claim consecutive gold medals in women’s ice hockey at the Winter Universiade. While Laramée worked tirelessly to create plays, and defending Brodrick Trophy winner Valerie Lamenta played valiantly between the pipes, stopping 32 Russian shots. With a 3-1 deficit heading into the third period, a comeback seemed possible but the determined Russian squad, which featured Calgary Dinos forward Alexandra (Sasha) Vafina were able to preserve their lead, emerging triumphant in a 4-1 final.

In spite of the heartbreak of emerging with silver, the weeks that have passed since have allowed Laramée fresh perspective. Certainly, the gold was the preferred color. In reality, there was a bigger victory in the fact that all players involved gained an experience that shall be preserved among the most preferable in their careers, because they reached a pinnacle that so few players can ever comprehend.

The summer months of preparation that took place, the new friends made, and the opportunity to train at Hockey Canada’s national headquarters in Calgary were a remarkable validation, indicating that the players who competed at the Winter Universiade were more than just world-class talents, but world-class people.

“Yes, I am really proud to have experienced this. Back in Almaty we were being seen as idols for the people there. We did not come back with the medal we wanted but when we came back, we realized we were really lucky to have lived that, because a lot of people would have dreamed to be at our spots.

I had the best experience of my life and that is what makes me want to work harder now to get better, and next year, to be dominant in the league. Then, we never know what can happen.”

“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”

Image obtained from Facebook: (L-R) - Jessica Cormier, Melodie Bouchard, Alexandra Labelle, Maude Laramée and Catherine Dubois

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