Capable and caring. Competent and committed. Confident and courageous. Compassionate and competitive.
The letter ‘C’ leads many positive adjectives, which is perhaps why Caroline Ouellette was chosen to wear it on her Olympic jersey, and lead her Canadian teammates at the 2014 Olympic Winter Games.
After all, it’s easy to see that such characteristics are inherent for Captain Caroline, as they are for leaders both inside and outside of athletics. A 15-year veteran of Canada’s National Women’s Team, the forward from Montreal, Que., deservingly got the nod last month from the coaching staff that she’ll captain Team Canada in Sochi.
Veteran forward Jayna Hefford, blue-liner Catherine Ward and Canadian flag bearer Hayley Wickenheiser were named alternate captains, constructing a carefully selected core leadership group that exudes qualities from ambitious to zealous, along with everything else on the alphabetical spectrum, necessary for Canada to successfully defend Olympic gold.
Taking the Team Canada helm certainly isn’t a job Ouellette takes lightly.
“It’s a great responsibility,” she said over the phone as the team prepared to travel from its pre-competition camp in St. Pölten, Austria, to the southeastern Russian city along the Black Sea coast that is hosting this year’s Olympics. “It’s probably one of the greatest challenges in my career, to make my teammates proud and my country proud.”
So she has a clear map in mind of how she plans to help navigate the red and white from the first puck drop Feb. 8, against Switzerland at Shayba Arena, to the gold medal face-off Feb. 20 at the Bolshoy Ice Dome.
“I hope that I can lead with the intensity of my play; with good habits,” she said of her on-ice strategy. “With disciplined play, (that is) solid defensively and offensively, and (by) playing with confidence.”
Off the ice, she is sometimes soft-spoken, often strong-minded and always determined to succeed. “I think I’m not afraid to speak up if I need to,” Ouellette said. “I try to give confidence around me and be aware of people around me, (to) see how they’re feeling, and try to give them energy if needed.”
Like many of her teammates, rookie forward Mélodie Daoust looks up to the three-time Olympic gold medallist and six-time world champion, commonly referred to as “Caro” in the locker room, for those reasons and many more.
Daoust, just 22 years old and about to experience her first major international competition at the senior level, lists Ouellette as her favourite female athlete in the official Team Canada media guide.
“I don’t know how many people (can say) they now play with their idol,” Daoust said, adding that not only did Ouellette inspire her as a young girl, but her now-teammate has also supported her since she first entered Canada’s National Women’s Program at the under-18 level. “She’s been there for me since I was 15 years old.”
Simply put, Ouellette is a true role model.
“She’ll work as hard as she can, and she’ll always be encouraging with the people around her,” Daoust described. “She’s an amazing leader and teammate, and I think this makes her a very good hockey player, and an amazing person, too.”
“I learn from her every day,” Daoust said.
For Ouellette, that sense of admiration and understanding goes both ways.
“I respect our young players, and I learn from them every day,” she said, without knowing Daoust had echoed that sentiment about her.
But like many born captains, Ouellette is quick to divert attention away from herself, pointing to the team full of “amazing leaders” that surround her. She is, after all, just one piece of the intricate puzzle that is Canada’s National Women’s Team, one of 21 crew members sculling in unison to the ultimate finish line – Olympic gold at Sochi 2014.
“Above all, I’m really a competitor,” Ouellette said. “I want to win.”