While such a remarkable gathering of ambitious and inspiring young female hockey players punctuated the focus at the inaugural Caroline Ouellette Girls Hockey Festival, there was a feeling that everyone involved shared in the success of the event. From the volunteers to the players (both Montreal Stars members and Winter Games participants) to the registrants and their proud parents, there was a spiritual connection defined by a love of the game.
With the Centre Etienne Desmarteau serving as the backdrop for the three day event held just a few days before Christmas 2014, the Girls Hockey Festival was an extension of Ouellette’s efforts to help breathe new life into the sport in Quebec, which has not experienced the same level of growth as other regions of Canada.
During the weekend, Ouellette was joined by the likes of Sochi teammates Melodie Daoust, Charline Labonte, Marie-Philip Poulin and Lauriane Rougeau. In addition, members of the Montreal Stars, Ouellette’s club team were proud to participate as well. General manager Meg Hewings, longtime volunteer Fiona Robinson, along with team founder Lisa-Marie Breton Lebreux and current team captain Cathy Chatrand were all on-hand.
With such remarkable women in attendance, their presence was accentuated by an appearance by France St. Louis, currently of the Montreal Carabins. Her role in Quebec women’s hockey as a player, builder and ambassador is akin to what Howie Morenz and Rocket Richard accomplished as some of the first superstars in the early history of the Montreal Canadiens.
Although the Girls Hockey Festival featured the obligatory match play, culminating in championship games at the Novice, Atom and Pee-Wee levels, there were other events that helped solidify the weekend’s success. Of note, the Stars participated in a scrimmage with young players from the Midget AAA level, giving them a chance to play against their hockey heroes. As a side note, many members of the Stars donated their time to serve in coaching capacities, enhancing the impact of the event.
Heroes from Sochi, such as Daoust, Labonte, Rougeau and Poulin, whose two Winter Games winning goals have immortalized her as an icon in Quebec women’s hockey, also took part in classroom sessions. Perhaps one day, a future generation of Winter Games participants from Quebec shall cite their classroom learning with these gold medalists as a key influence in the development of their game. Said sessions may certainly have instilled confidence in the players competing in the championship games on the Festival’s final day.
Among the six championship teams from the Girls Hockey Festival, Lac St. Louis captured the Novice title. The squad would prevail in a 7-0 whitewash of les Mistral des Laurentides, who played with relentless determination.
The Blizzard du haut-Richelieu finished as Atom B champs while the Pee-Wee AA winners were the Pionnieres de Lanaudiere. They would win in convincing fashion by an 8-4 tally against the Huskies de Chaudiere Ouest.
Of note, there were three title games decided by a 1-0 final score. Les Citadelles captured the Pee-Wee A crown with their defeat of the RBC Mini-stars. The Ottawa Ice, the only championship team not based in Quebec, captured the Pee-Wee B title against the Wild de Westlake. The final team to emerge with a 1-0 title victory was Les Blizzards du Haut-Richelieu. The squad defeated les Felines du St. Laurent to capture the Atom B title.
A hard-fought 3-2 final stood as the outcome in the Atom A final. The CCM Mini-Stars Rouge played valiantly, suffering the loss to Les Citadelles de Quebec. In the aftermath of all the championship games, Ouellette gracefully joined each team on the ice for a celebratory team photograph.
Her presence on the ice only served as prologue. The final event of the festival may have been the most treasured for Ouellette and the hockey heroes who joined her on this remarkable journey. Sponsored by RBC, a session was held where girls aged 5-15 with no experience in the game could step onto the ice with full equipment and participate.
It was the perfect conclusion to a weekend where the ice, the arena and its surroundings were transformed into a pleasurable landscape where the game grew on a richer soil. Punctuated by the efforts of highly accomplished yet generous athletes whose dedication exemplified the spirit of empowerment, a standard has been set that should only make the second edition of the Festival next year even more memorable.
Perhaps the greatest legacy of this year’s Festival is that it was truly an affirmation of Caroline Ouellette’s dedication to the game. Having hit her stride as a hockey icon, equally important in Montreal’s hockey mainstream, Ouellette is wonderfully sophisticated and appreciative of those whose love of the game has only enhanced her own experiences. Her presence over the years has provided residual warmth for the game’s growth, providing fans and teammates alike with a salient role model to emulate.
Main Photo credit: Alain Bellier Photographe, Other images obtained from Facebook