As the world of hockey rebounds from the pandemic, a tremendous feeling of momentum has enveloped the female game. Adding to this exciting time involves a highly talented goaltender breaking barriers.
Startng the season with the Patriotes du Cegep St. Laurent, Eve Gascon earned an empowering call-up to the Gatineau Olympiques of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL), perched in first place in the West Division. Raised in Terrebonne, Quebec, she was the first girl to play AAA Midget boys hockey full-time in Quebec.
Worth noting, Gascon becomes part of a celebrated group of accomplished figures associated with the franchise. From the ownership of Wayne Gretzky during the 1980s, to the presence of future NHL coaches Pat Burns, Claude Julien and Alain Vigneault, star players included Luc Robitaille, Jeremy Roenick and Claude Giroux.
Having appeared in three preseason games for the franchise, including a victory in their final game at Robert Guertin Arena, besting Rouyn-Noranda in an 8-1 win, Gascon certainly placed her name in franchise lore.
On this day, Gascon joined another distinguished group. Becoming the third woman to compete in a regular season game in the Q, she followed Manon Rheaume (Trois Rivieres Draveurs) and Charline Labonte (Acadie Bathurst Titan). As a side note, Shannon Szabados appeared in a WHL game during the 2002-03 season.
Coincidentally, the aforementioned have worn the Maple Leaf internationally. Gascon captured a silver medal for Canada at the 2020 IIHF U18 Women’s Worlds. Prior to the game, Labonte provided words of encouragement to Gascon via telephone. She would also receive support from Rheaume, Olympic legend Marie-Philip Poulin and Gatineau mayor France Belisle, the first female in the role in the city’s long history.
Committing to the UMD Bulldogs for the 2022-23 NCAA season, Gascon’s appearance with the Olympiques made national news. Wearing the number 37, Gascon recorded 18 saves in a valiant effort versus the visiting Rimouski Oceanic.
Prior to the opening face-off, Rimouski goaltender Gabriel Robert skated towards Gascon’s crease, tapping her pads as a gesture of good luck. Of note, both Gascon and Robert grew up in Terrebonne, having known each other through youth hockey.
Adding to the theme of coincidence is the fact that the Oceanic selected a female goaltender in the 2002 QMJHL Draft. A future Clarkson Cup champion, Jenny Lavigne attended the Oceanic training camp in 2002 and 2003. As a side note, the 2003 camp featured Sidney Crosby in his rookie season.
With a sold out crowd of 4700 at Centre Slush Puppie, an historic first for the arena, Gascon gained the start in place of injured goaltender Remi Poirier. Doing a rookie lap on the ice during warm ups, many fans rose for an ovation, young fans tapping the glass in support.
At the 8:07 mark, Rimouski grabbed the first lead of the game. Recording his ninth goal of the season, Julien Beland scored on Gascon with assists credited to Xavier Cormier and Louis Robin.
With a tripping penalty to Charles Cote, the Olympiques tied the score, as Mathieu Bizier found the back of the net for his 22nd goal of the season. Before the period expired, Rimouski regained the lead. Taking advantage of a power play opportunity, Alexander Gaudio added his name to the scoresheet while Louis Robin earned another assist. Of note, the Olympiques outshot Rimouski by an 11-5 margin.
The second period saw Rimouski extend their lead. With Noah Warren called for elbowing, special teams factored into another goal.
Capitalizing on the power play, Luke Coughlin recorded Rimouski’s third goal of the game.
Before the period expired, the Olympiques reduced the Rimouski lead. With only 62 seconds remaining, team captain Manix Landry placed the puck past Robert, as the Olympiques supporters roared in approval, believing that a win was within reach. With six seconds remaining, Warren hit the crossbar, many of the fans in a highly electric crowd believing he scored.
Scoring twice in less than three minutes during the third, as Donovan Arsenault and Bizier contributed goals, the Olympiques enjoyed their first lead in a highly intense on-ice battle. With an enthusiastic crowd yelling Gascon’s name, a high level of energy added to an atmosphere of exhilaration.
At the 14:38 mark, Gaudio logged his second goal of the game, the score now tied at 4-apiece. Considering that Rimouski outshot the Olympiques by a 10-9 mark, Gascon displayed tremendous poise, remaining determined to give her team a chance to win.
With overtime required to determine the winner, the fans on-hand, including Gascon’s family and friends were cheering for her, a collective group hoping to will her way to victory. Merely 70 seconds into overtime, Cormier logged his second point of the game, scoring the game winning tally for Rimouski, deflating hopes of Gascon emerging victorious.
Marking the third overtime loss in March for the Olympiques, the aftermath was filled with praise and admiration for Gascon. Handling questions from a plethora of media, her extraordinary performance made national news, placing a positive spotlight on the women of ice hockey, adding another distinguished chapter to sporting equality.