When Caroline Ouellette was asked who she was dedicating her performance to at the 2010 Olympic Winter Games, the answer came easy.
“Tante Claire,” the Montréal, Que., native scribbled on her dog tags, issued to every player on Canada’s National Women’s Team prior to heading to Vancouver.
Caroline hung them in her dressing room stall, where she could “always see them” before games and between periods, as a constant reminder that while she was on the ice battling for gold, her aunt was back home in St-Adèle, Que., battling a much tougher, off-ice battle: breast cancer.
Two surgeries later, Claire is a survivor but must continue fighting to keep the cancer at bay. Her three-time Olympic gold medal-winning niece, meanwhile, will take her aunt’s inspiration back onto the ice Saturday, January 29th. This time, it will be with her club team, the Montreal Stars, who will host the Boston Blades at Aréna Étienne-Desarteau in what will be a great game for a great cause.
The puck drops at 3 p.m. ET on the fundraiser for the Quebec Breast Cancer Foundation.
“Our goal is to bring in as many people as we can, so there’s no fee at the door,” Caroline said of the matchup between the top two Canadian Women’s Hockey League teams. “We’re going to ask people to give what they feel comfortable giving.”
For a small donation, hockey fans will get to see nine Vancouver 2010 Olympians in action, including Caroline and fellow Team Canada gold medallists Kim St-Pierre and Sarah Vaillancourt, also playing for Montreal, along with U.S. silver medallists Kacey Bellamy, Caitlin Cahow, Erika Lawler, Angela Ruggiero and Karen Thatcher, playing for Boston.
American Olympian Julie Chu, a rival to Ouellette, St. Pierre and Vaillancourt on the international stage, laces up as their CWHL teammate on the Stars, who will wear pink jerseys especially for this weekend’s game.
“We know that one woman in nine will suffer from breast cancer,” Caroline told hockeycanada.ca. “My teammates and I are really excited about getting the opportunity to play in pink and bring awareness to this cause.”
Joining the Olympians on the ice will be additional Canada’s National Women’s Team alumnae, including 2010 4 Nations Cup gold medallist Annie Guay, as well as Emmanuelle Blais, Sabrina Harbec and Noemie Marin, all on the Montreal roster.
“It’s the highest level of senior (women’s) hockey,” Caroline said of the elite CWHL. “We all dream that this will become our pro league, so by doing events like this, for a cause we care about, (we are) bringing people to see us for the first time, and I think most people will like what they see and want to come back.”
Caroline isn’t the only Stars member whose family has been impacted by the threat of breast cancer. Team captain Lisa-Marie Breton-Lebreux’s mother, Johanne Lebreux, has also fought – and beaten – the disease.
“It was really tough to see her go through that with her mom,” Caroline said. “She says herself, ‘I might be someone who’s at risk of having it, so I want to fight right now, do what I can, to help find a cure and help other women or families that have to deal with it.”
With their friends and loved ones at the forefront of their minds, several Stars have previously participated in the Run for the Cure, while Guay has invited the Two-Abreast dragon boat team, a squad of breast cancer survivors, to attend Saturday’s game as special guests.
“We’re going to give the jerseys to the survivors,” Caroline said, adding some of the pink sweaters will also be featured in a silent auction, along with unique items ranging from Team Canada memorabilia and signed CWHL sticks to tickets for the Montreal Canadiens and rock band U2. “It will be a fun event, and an inspiring event.”
As for tante Claire, while she couldn’t see Caroline play live in Vancouver due to her illness, she will be in the stands Saturday to cheer on the Stars in their game against Boston, which seems to be just the motivation her niece needs to be at her very best. After winning Olympic gold on home ice, Caroline gave her dog tags to the aunt who has inspired her to accomplish her greatest goals.
“When you think you’re having a bad day because you’re tired, because it’s hard training, well it’s not as bad as fighting for your life,” Caroline said. “It brings things into perspective and makes you appreciate being healthy, and being able to do what you love.”