Selected in the third round, thirteenth overall by the Montreal Stars in the 2015 CWHL Draft, the chance to return to her roots provides a strong emotional component in Karell Emard’s comeback. Raised in Richelieu, Quebec, the chance to play for the Stars represents an opportunity for renewal.
“It was an awesome feeling. A great draft and I am so thankful for the opportunity to play in Montreal. At one time, I used to play for the Axion (pronounced action). It is very exciting for me to be back and play again. It will be awesome.”
As a teenager, Emard was part of a renaissance for women’s hockey in Montreal. She was one of several future stars that competed with the prestigious Dawson College program, which would also feature the likes of Ann-Sophie Bettez, goaltender Alexadnra Garcia, Laurianne Rougeau, Marie-Philip Poulin, Cassandra Poudrier and Catherine Ward.
During her time at Dawson College, Emard served as team captain and had MVP honors bestowed upon her. Also earning the Collegial AA’s MVP award, her career at Dawson College culminated with being recognized as their female Athlete of the Year in 2007, respectively.
In addition, she would find time to compete with the Montreal Axion from 2005-07, which were the final seasons in franchise history. A predecessor to the Stars franchise, Emard played for head coach Yanick Evola. The chance to be part of the Stars brings her proud Montreal hockey career full circle. Compared to her formative years with the Axion, Emard has noted that the game has changed dramatically.
“The game has evolved for sure. Back then, it was a great league too. Today, the game is still going, and still strong. The talent and the people are awesome and we will keep pushing each other.
Having the opportunity to play with the teammates that I can play with next year will be awesome. Some I have played with before and I am very excited. The game is faster and more exciting. Seeing the rivalries building up is good, adding to the competitive level of hockey for sure.”
At the NCAA level, Emard played with the St. Lawrence Skating Saints earning All-ECAC Rookie Team honors. During her time with the Skating Saints, she would also play for Canada’s Under-22 national team.
Competing in multiple NCAA Frozen Four tournaments, she established herself as one of the top snipers in ECAC Conference play, earning the team’s captaincy along the way.
As a side note, the last St. Lawrence alum to play for the Montreal Stars was elite blueliner Annie Guay, who contributed to the squad’s Clarkson Cup victory in 2011, possibly a good omen for Emard and the Stars. Another of her teammates at St. Lawrence would also bring her skills to the CWHL; blueliner Britni Smith would score the Clarkson Cup clinching goal in 2014.
During Emard’s final season with the Skating Saints (2011-12), she compiled 36 points, starting her season with a four-game scoring streak. Recording 10 multiple point efforts during said season (including a three-point output against Connecticut on October 8), the final goal of her NCAA career fittingly occurred in her final game, a March 10 affair with the Boston College Eagles. She would graduate with a Masters Degree in Education.
Upon graduation, Emard had the opportunity to stay in ECAC hockey. Obtaining a coaching position with the Colgate Raiders, she served on head coach Greg Fargo’s staff. In Emard’s first season, the Raiders qualified for the ECAC playoffs. Among some of the notable players during Emard’s time were the likes of Breanne Wilson-Bennett, Melissa Kueber and Katelyn Parker.
Of note, leaving Colgate was a highly visceral decision that employed soul searching. While she was part of an improving Colgate program, working with the defense and penalty kill, there was a part of Emard that yearned for a chance to get in touch with her playing roots and get back on the ice again,
“I have playing in some tournaments but I have spent the last three seasons coaching at the Division I level coaching with Colgate University. Right out of college, I had applied for a coaching job. I did not think that I would be hired, but I would end up getting it.
During practice, I would suit up, but having not taken a year off to play hockey had haunted me. It is definitely exciting to get back in competitive hockey. It was difficult because of the situation where you are leaving a lifestyle, leaving a certain job and salary. Going back home is what I needed to be doing.
Later on, I want to pursue coaching but I needed time for myself. I am happy to be back home and playing the game. This is what I needed. It was a tough decision. I feel that being drafted helped support my decision.”
Returning to elite women’s hockey in Montreal, Emard is reunited with a former teammate, Lisa-Marie Breton Lebreux. Having recently hung up her skates, the CWHL co-founder has opted to stay with the Stars organization as a member of their coaching staff. Seeing a familiar face in her hockey comeback is a source of comfort and assurance that great things are bound to happen,
“Yes, Liz was definitely such a great leader. She was the team captain back then. She brought energy and passion in the game and the locker room. Every summer, we have run into each other.
With her passion for the game, she will help to complement the whole staff. Her voice travels in a sense. I definitely respect her and her opinion. Everyone trusts Liz and her experience, whether it be as a coach, mentor or player.”
“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”