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FISU: Winter Universiade | Cassandra Labrie | Canada

Earning the call to play for Canada represents a landmark that every player aspires to. For a player such as Cassandra Labrie, the highlight of being part of the roster participating at the 2019 Winter Universiade in the Siberian city of Krasnoyarsk, Russia, brought with it a blend of local and national pride.

Coming from Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia, the same hometown as Sidney Crosby and Alexis Crossley, players who skated for Canada, along with Suzanne Fenerty, a star player for the St. Francis Xavier X-Women, Labrie’s opportunity to don the Maple Leaf added to a very proud community legacy. Simultaneously, the feeling of being associated with such notable names enhanced her standing as one of the local greats.

“I had never really thought about it that way. Hearing you mention my name in relation to theirs is pretty amazing and a huge honour.”

Upon the revelation that Labrie was among the number of distinguished U SPORTS stars selected for Canada’s contingent at the Winter Universiade, it represented a spectacular surprise, an affirmation of her status as one of the nation’s finest. Understanding one’s limitations, the reality that not everyone can reach the summit of playing for Canada, Labrie had been satisfied with five fantastic seasons spent with L’Université de Moncton.

All smiles at centre ice in Krasnoyarsk, site of the 2019 Winter Universiade (Image supplied by Cassandra Labrie)

Canadian head coach Stacy Colarossi, who also serves in the capacity of bench boss for Sudbury’s Laurentian University in the Ontario University Athletics (OUA) Conference, was among those that believed Labrie’s abilities could benefit Canada’s entry at the Universiade. Such belief was one that provided her with a sense of newfound achievement that validated the effort exerted throughout the seasons,

“When I got the call saying that the coach was interested in having me be part of the team I could not believe it. I had never considered that playing at the Universiade was even an option. Of course, for a young girl playing hockey, Team Canada had always been the dream.

As I was getting older, I guess I kind of accepted the fact that that would likely never happen. Finding out that I was going to be on the team I suddenly felt like everything I had been through had been completely worth it.

I was extremely happy with my hockey career up to then. I made it to university and was named Captain of my team in Moncton. I am extremely grateful for having had those opportunities.”

The selection for Team Canada brought with it a shared sense of celebration. From the outset, Katryne Villeneuve, a teammate on Les Aigles Bleues de Moncton, would both get the nod to grace the ice in Krasnoyarsk.

Of note, both achieved major milestones with Moncton, one of the prominent programs in Atlantic Canada. Villeneuve, a native of Casselman, Ontario, was recognized as the Atlantic University Sport Most Valuable Player, while Labrie, was bestowed the honor of the captaincy.

In addition, fellow Maritimer Abby Beale, a freshman for the Mount Allison Mounties, along with Dalhousie University Tigers’ Natalie Stanwood, a native of Vancouver who once skated for the NCAA’s Bemidji State Beavers, were the other AUS competitors named to Canada. Despite the existing rivalries between the three schools, skating for Canada established all three as ambassadors for AUS hockey, while adding profound perspective to their careers. Certainly, the feeling of familiarity amongst themselves was an integral part of the experience,

“Yet, that Maple Leaf just made it feel like all the sacrifices and the dedication was all for something. It was nice to know that I would know somebody on the team but also knowing that Katryne would be a useful asset to the team. It made us proud to know that we would represent our league, as well as our country.”

Heading into the first game at the Winter Universiade, which saw Canada take to the ice against China, Labrie’s emotions were an amalgam of focus and nervous energy. While the squad had an impromptu jersey ceremony before competition began, adding a feeling of national pride to the prestige of competing internationally, the reality of the game constituted a different aspect.

Walking into the locker room and seeing one’s jersey, with their name and number adorned on the back, brought with it the feeling of arrival, attaining an elusive dream of wearing the Canadian colors on an international stage. With the knowledge that all the players shared the collective goal of a gold medal, a pre-game moment supplied a feeling of empowerment and unity prevalent prior to the opening faceoff, one that supplied powerful emotions for a proud Labrie,

“The great thing I learned very quickly about our team is that there was no doubt we all had the same goal in Russia. When you play with a team full of leaders and girls willing to do anything to win, it makes it so much easier to mesh together and work well together.

Going into that first game I was so nervous. We had done an official jersey reveal beforehand, but that did not help the jitters of walking into the dressing room and seeing that jersey and the socks there. I was so ready to get on the ice and play for that logo.

We had to dedicate our game to someone and apart from everyone who has ever helped me get there, I dedicated it to the nine-year-old me, who set goals for herself to end up in that exact spot. Once we got on the ice and got that first shift over with, the adrenaline kicked in and you went to work. It was amazing!”

Recording an assist on Melodie Bouchard’s third period goal from the opening game only added to the adrenaline rush, as Canada vanquished China by a 10-0 tally. The milestone of her first international point also served as a defining moment for Labrie, enhancing the sensation of achieving her international dream.

Competing on a defensive unit that included the likes of Leah Bohlken, Jodi Gentile, Christine Deaudelin, Annabelle Faubert and the aforementioned Stanwood, the unique novelty of sharing the ice with defenders from other conferences represented one of the most unique aspects of being part of Canada’s contingent. As the players gelled together quite nicely, testament to their very strong skill sets, the fast familiarities that developed served as one of the team’s hallmarks, taking into account that the roster was assembled rather quickly and that time was limited to get acquainted prior to the Opening Ceremonies.

“Our defensive squad worked really well together and the coaches were able to see who would work well with who through watching us at practice and talking to us to find out what type of player you were.”

Celebrating a goal with her Canadian teammates (Image supplied by Cassandra Labrie)

As the tournament progressed, the dream of playing for Canada brought with it a highly pleasant surprise. Scoring a goal in the medal round, with the assist credited to Kaitlin Willoughby, contributing towards a 4-1 victory against Japan, it allowed Canada the opportunity to qualify for its sixth consecutive gold medal game appearance, supplying a point of pride for the blueliner.

While pleased at the opportunity to benefit the offense in its golden ambitions, the Final versus host Russia actually held dual connotations for Labrie. In addition to competing for the gold medal, it also represented her last-ever contest at the university level.

Understandably, the emotion of the game represented a significant episode, marking the conclusion of a contented era in her hockey odyssey, five fantastic seasons as an Aigle Bleue. Worth noting, her last point as an Aigle Bleue held unique linkages to the Universiade. Scoring a goal on January 11, 2019, a hard-fought 3-2 loss to Stanwood’s Tigers, said goal was assisted by Villeneuve and Aude Masse.

Despite the fact that the host Russians emerged with the gold, a hard-fought 2-0 win that was scoreless throughout the first two periods, a power play marking the difference late in the third, Labrie remained exceptionally proud of the Canadian effort.

Posing with the silver medal (Image supplied by Cassandra Labrie)

Considering the intensity of skating for the gold medal, along with the impending conclusion to a distinguished career, it could have created significant pressure for any player. In the midst of such high stakes, Labrie remained poised, displaying a combination of poise and maturity that confirmed what made her such a valued leader in a distinguished university career, one that reached its glorious finale on an international stage worthy of her talents,

“I think I had two favorite moments amongst many amazing ones. The first was scoring the first goal in the semi-final game against Japan. It was unbelievable to know that I was not only there but that I was actually able to contribute to the team’s success offensively.

The second was the whole day of the gold medal game. You try and remind yourself to just do your same routine and to just treat it like any other game. Yet, how do you do that knowing that gold is at stake. We played amazing during that gold medal game, no matter the final score.

There was also the added distraction of knowing it was my last university hockey game. I am in my fifth year and it was emotional to know that there was a countdown on the board to the end. Silver was bittersweet, it took a couple hours to be happy about it, but it was an amazing experience to get there!”

“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”


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More about Mark Staffieri

Raised in the Greater Toronto Area, Mark holds an extensive writing background. A contributor to Wikipedia since 2007, his writing endeavors have included writing for Bleacher Report (2012-13), the former CWHL (2012-15), the Legends Football League (2013-14), he was part of the team of writers for Hockey Canada at the 2013 IIHF Women's World Championships in Ottawa. In addition to composing more than 700 articles for Women's Hockey Life (since 2012), his current slate of duties includes covering female tackle football for Canada Football Chat, along with pieces for NowVIZ Magazine (digital format) since its inaugural issue. Also the publisher of allowhertoplay, a website devoted to the heroics of sporting heroines, Mark remains focused on raising awareness of the positive impact of women in sport.