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Retribution at Clarkson Cup for Joyous Jocelyne Larocque

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Unfairly maligned at the 2018 Winter Games, due to the removal of the silver medal after an emotional shootout loss to the archrival United States, it would have been for Jocelyne Larocque to remain in the catacombs of despair, hang up her skates and contemplate a return only next autumn. Considering that she became an unforeseen topic of debate at the Games regarding sportsmanship, the forum of the Games serving as such a fine line, such an experience quickly dissolved into a sullen affair.

While many offered Larocque a sympathetic turn, there was a vehicle for her great qualities to rise to the surface, setting the stage for a miraculous comeback. Having already assembled a superlative career, one filled with many proud achievements that have propelled her into a likeable role model, the frozen surface at Toronto’s Ricoh Coliseum provided her with a truly golden opportunity to silence her critics.

With the Thunder experiencing a seven-game winning streak to close out their regular season, the first ever in Markham, Ontario, the presence of Larocque and Laura Fortino on the blueline was integral towards such success, contributing a very strong sense of encouragement and leadership. Just as essential was the amazing show of respect bestowed upon Larocque, indicative of the Thunder’s exceptional culture.

Looked upon as a shining example of leadership, the transition to Markham embodied such admiration for Larocque. The final captain in the history of the club’s reign in Brampton, relocating to a new market resulted in a tremendous gesture of respect. While the terrific triptych of Jamie Lee Rattray, Kristen Richards and Dania Simmonds provided strong leadership as the alternate captains for the inaugural season in Markham, simultaneously serving as the faces of the franchise, there was never a question as to which player would serve as Markham’s first-ever captain.

As the captaincy was reserved for Larocque, her return to the franchise was one that showed she delivered on all accounts. Making her Markham debut on March 3, 2018, her initial gracing of home ice at the Thornhill Community Centre was filled with praise, showered with grateful applause by a group of fans, proud to have her don the Maple Leaf, plus the Markham green.

Undoubtedly, there was a feeling of graceful privilege among fans and players alike, and Larocque rewarded their kindness with a stirring performance. Hosting the Calgary Inferno in a crucial game that saw both clubs jockeying for playoff positioning, Larocque would score a goal in her Markham debut, as the crowd erupted in joyful approval. Scoring said goal at the 4:53 mark of the third on goaltender Lindsey Post, it provided Markham with a 3-1 lead, as Nicole Brown and Jenna McParland both gained the assists.

Larocque’s presence would definitely turn the tide in the Thunder’s favor, setting a confident tone that saw the Thunder score another two goals in the third, emerging victorious in a convincing 5-1 final. Recognized as the First Star of the Game (while teammate Erica Howe gained Second Star honors), it was an appropriate denouement for one of the most inspiring performances of her career.

In gaining the opportunity to make such a notable debut against the Inferno, there was also an element of kismet, as Larocque was an integral part of the early years of pro hockey in Calgary. As a teenaged phenomenon, she joined the Calgary Oval X-Treme, of the now defunct Western Women’s Hockey League, in 2004, donning their iconic blue jersey until 2007. As a side note, her older sister Chantal also played for the Oval X-Treme from 2005-07. Three years later, she would make a comeback, suiting up for the Manitoba Maple Leafs.

Following her memorable career at Minnesota-Duluth, Larocque continued her professional career in Calgary, joining the CWHL’s nascent Team Alberta franchise in 2012. When the franchise was rechristened as the Calgary Inferno, Larocque was garbed in their white road jersey, joining teammates Meghan Mikkelson, Tara Watchorn and Kelsey Webster at centre ice of a Calgary Flames contest for a ceremonial faceoff, which simultaneously served as the official rebranding.

Ironically, Larocque would play only one game for the Inferno, who enjoyed their own Cup triumph in 2016. Traded to the Brampton Thunder in the summer of 2014, it proved to be a defining trade for both franchises. Coincidentally, an integral member of Thunder history executed said trade. Lori Dupuis, also a former Winter Games gold medalist, served as the General Manager, opting to ship Bailey Bram, who also grew up in Larocque’s hometown of Ste. Anne, Manitoba in the deal. Worth noting, Dupuis was a member of the Thunder’s championship roster from 2008, the first title in CWHL history. With Larocque on the 2018 edition of the Thunder, winning their first Clarkson Cup ten years after that emotional championship, Dupuis and Larocque have bridged generations.

Before the regular season would expire, Larocque would also provide an assist in an 8-0 blanking of Boston on the road, credited for the helper on a short-handed goal by Jamie Lee Rattray, displaying flashes of offensive brilliance. Perhaps more impressive, she contributed a solid plus/minus rating of +8. In spite of the fact that she did not register any points in the postseason, her fundamentally sound game not only helped preserve leads for the green and white, frustrating opposing offenses, it was an element that injected the Thunder with the belief that victory was possible.

When the Thunder defeated the Kunlun Red Star by a 2-1 mark in overtime to capture the first Clarkson Cup in franchise history, it was the affirmation of a dream come true. Larocque, with the captain’s C adorned on her jersey, reciprocated the gesture shown upon her by the franchise and the alternate captains throughout the season. Approaching centre ice to pose for a photo with the treasured title, she immediately invited Rattray, Richards and Simmons to share in the jubilation of the awarding of the Cup, a display of picturesque grace.

Along with Laura Fortino, they now become part of the Triple Gold Club for Women. For Larocque, her entry into such a prestigious club takes on greater lustre, as she joins Caroline Ouellette as the only Canadians to have attained Triple Gold Club status plus the achievement of an NCAA Frozen Four title, a unique grand slam in hockey lore. Coincidentally, both won their Frozen Four titles with the Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs.

Perhaps more impressive, there is a symbolic meaning to Larocque’s triumph. Eradicating any negative aspects from the Games, truly turning the page towards an exciting new chapter, simultaneously enjoying a beautiful poetic justice with the captivating Cup win. Returning to the Thunder just weeks earlier, Larocque’s focus was on dedicating herself towards projecting an image of dignity and guidance, setting a positive example through a dignified work ethic, emblematic of her heart of gold. Fittingly, her poise was indispensable, propelling the Thunder towards their first Cup in franchise history, a well-earned milestone, and a moment that may have truly represented her finest hour.

Photo Credit: Jess Bazal-Ritchotte

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