Caroline Ouellette changed my life.
It sounds dramatic. It sounds over-the-top. But it’s the truth.
I fell in love with hockey before women’s hockey was an Olympic sport. I remember watching the 1998 Nagano games in shock, never having been exposed to women playing hockey before. It still seemed so novel, so weird. Almost as weird as an awkward 11-year old who was the only girl in her school that watched Hockey Night in Canada on Saturday nights.
Four years later, as I watched Caroline Ouellette and Team Canada win the country’s first Olympic gold medal in women’s hockey, tears streamed down my face. I knew that I was witnessing something big. Important. Marian Wright Edelman once said “you can’t be what you can’t see.” Thousands of little girls across the country were seeing something they had never seen before. And dreams were beginning to take shape.
By the late 2000s, I realized that I wanted to watch and support women’s hockey more than just every four years. The calibre of play is so extraordinary, it felt like a disservice to ignore it in non-Olympic years. And so I started watching the Montreal Stars, in large part, so I could watch Ouellette play (she was my favourite player, so there was no question which team I would cheer for). She was so strong on the puck, and her stride was so unique. I was hooked (pardon the hockey pun).
As I grew up, and started my career in radio and print, I always made sure to find a way to include women’s hockey. Whether it was sneaking 4 Nations Cup scores into my weekend sports updates, or penning season previews for the Montreal Gazette, women’s hockey has always been, and continues to be, the sport I’m most passionate about. It’s also the sport that made my dream come true.
I’ve wanted to be a play-by-play announcer ever since I was a little kid. It seemed like such a glamourous job, traveling with the team and describing the action on the ice. It didn’t matter to me that there weren’t any women doing it. ‘I’ll be the first, then,’ the bold, little kid in me thought.
If you think seeing women’s hockey players is weird, try finding women doing hockey play-by-play. It’s a tiny, minuscule group, with none at the NHL level. Sure, there’s been the occasional woman to put a crack in that glass ceiling and call a game here or there, but until a woman gets that job on a consistent, full-time basis, that ceiling may as well be made of concrete. But I still never gave up on my dream. It was always the one thing I was working towards.
The Canadian Women’s Hockey League isn’t just a place for women to play hockey, but a place for women to develop into coaching, media, and leadership roles. It’s a league where student reporters and bloggers are able to cut their teeth, interviewing Olympians on the regular. And it’s a place where a radio rookie like me was able to get her first crack at calling hockey games.
I’ll never forget the day that I called my first game. I was supposed to be doing colour commentary, but the regular play-by-play guy had some sort of emergency, and couldn’t make the game. I had a few hours to memorize the rosters for both teams, get myself cleaned up and camera ready, and head to the rink. My heart was pounding, but I did it. First one under the belt.
I’ll never forget the day I called my first game at the Bell Centre. Six thousand fans packed in to watch Les Canadiennes take on the Calgary Inferno. I cried that morning, unable to process the magnitude of what that moment meant. Not just for the players on the ice, but for the girls in the stands. The girls at home watching and listening who were me, 20 years ago.
I’ll never forget the day I got to call a game with Ouellette. She was providing colour commentary for Les Canadiennes games while she was pregnant with her daughter, Liv. And she was nervous. Here was this four-time Olympic gold medalist, NERVOUS. It endeared her to me so much more, because she wasn’t JUST this hockey legend, but she was a person, with fears and worries.
I’ve dreaded this day for a long time, but I knew that it was coming. She had to retire eventually. I feel so lucky that I got to watch Caroline Ouellette play hockey, and to have interviewed her as many times as I did. The mark she’s left on the sport is an indelible one, and I’ll miss seeing her on the ice. I’ll miss her thoughtful, unpredictable answers to journalist’s questions after games. But I look forward to seeing her name and picture in the Hockey Hall of Fame.
Thank you for everything, Caro. You have no idea just how much you mean to so many little girls, this one included.