You knew they meant business by the eye black they wore.
But the toques they wore during warm-up told you they also intended to enjoy every moment.
On New Year’s Eve, Lauriane Rougeau, Marie-Philip-Poulin and Les Canadiennes de Montréal of the Canadian Women’s Hockey League (CWHL) played the Boston
Pride of the National Women’s Hockey League (NWHL) at Gillette Stadium as part of the NHL’s Winter Classic weekend.
“We grew up watching hockey and watching the men get these opportunities,” says Rougeau. “For us to finally be able to do the same was unbelievable.
Playing in the first Outdoor Women’s Classic with our team is something I’ll never forget.”
The rink may have been sitting in the middle of a stadium that seats 70,000, but the setting took the players back to a simpler time.
“I was just very content to be there and happy to play the game that I love so much,” says Rougeau. “It brings you back to when you’re a kid playing
outdoor hockey and that’s just the same feeling I was bringing out there – just have fun, enjoy the moment.”
Memories of cold winter days on frozen ice provide warm memories for Rougeau, who fondly recalls playing pond hockey with her parents and sisters.
“We spent a lot of hours shovelling the snow, watering the lake and just making a rink so we could play as a family,” she says. “That’s the big memory I
have, and sharing a hot chocolate afterward.”
Poulin, too, fell in love with the game in the great outdoors.
“Being able to share that with my family, my brother, every time we go back home for Christmas we look around to see if the ice was ready outside and we’d
That same open-eyed excitement began on the five-hour bus ride from Montreal to Massachusetts, the recognition that this was no ordinary road trip.
“We knew the nerves were getting to us,” says Poulin. “Everyone was like a little kid on the bus.” And that feeling of wonderment continued once the team
was on the ice. “I looked around and everyone was laughing, everyone was smiling. We knew it was a pretty special moment for us.”
The game was set up as two 15-minute periods. The Canadiennes took an early lead thanks to Kim Deschênes, who played in the first Esso Cup, in 2009, with
the Northern Stars. Deschênes one-timed a centering pass from Noémie Marin, an alumna of Canada’s National Women’s Team, 3:15 into the first period.
Blake Borden’s point shot in the closing minutes of the second evened things up as the game ended 1-1.
In addition to Rougeau and Poulin, Montreal’s line-up included fellow Olympic gold medallists Caroline Ouellette and Charline Labonté, and the Canadiennes’
coaching staff was joined behind the bench at one point by Habs greats Guy Lafleur, Yvan Cournoyer, and Rejean Houle.
With a handful of members of the Pride missing due to a commitment with their national team, Boston added players from other NWHL clubs to round out its
roster. Shannon Doyle and Kaleigh Fratkin, Team Canada alumnae themselves, both played at Boston University and enjoyed a homecoming to their collegiate
All the players did their best to share the experience through social media not only with their fans back home in Montreal but also with followers of the
other four CHWL teams. Rougeau says it was important to the team to represent their league and thank its fans for their support.
Players have already seen the effects of the attention the game received.
The Canadiennes hosted a two-game series with the Boston Blades this past weekend and Poulin noticed a spike in attendance, a fact she credits to the
team’s Outdoor Women’s Classic appearance.
“Hopefully it’s going to keep growing in that way,” she says. “People are going to realize that women’s hockey is great hockey.”
Both Rougeau and Poulin know that being involved in one of the NHL’s prime events will also help grow the women’s game in general.
That’s why the players were there, says Poulin. “The next morning I remember walking around and people actually recognizing everyone who was a part of the
Winter Classic the day before.”
“It was a great opportunity for us to showcase to the world what we’re made of and what we can do,” adds Rougeau. “It’s something that we want to continue
growing, the partnership with the NHL. We want to make this an annual event with the Winter Classic and allow other female hockey players to experience the
same thing that we experienced this year.”