From “pink power” to “black and yellow,” France St-Louis and Vicky Sunohara were on the ice for the inaugural women’s world championship in 1990, and returned with the tournament to the nation’s capital this spring, where they watched the next generation of Team Canada stars take to the ice at the 2013 IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship – and catch up with their fellow members of the first generation of women’s hockey legends.
In total, 45 current and former National Women’s Team players and staff who won gold medals at the 1992, 1994 and 1997 women’s worlds gathered in Ottawa, Ont., from April 5 to 7 to reminisce about hockey memories past, reflect on the future of the female game and soak up special moments created during an unforgettable Team Canada Alumni Association reunion.
“You know what they’re going through,” St-Louis of St-Hubert, Que., says of watching Team Canada from the stands at SBP Arena, home of the Ottawa Senators. “You play because you love the game, so when you’re able to play in front of all these fans, it’s unbelievable.”
Canada’s National Women’s Team alumnae who took part in this year’s reunion were part of the history-making crowd that filled the NHL rink, as Canada shut out Finland 8-0 on Friday, April 5 in front of 18,013 fans.
“Especially in Ottawa, that was the first world championship, for me, it’s always going to be special … that’s where it all started,” St-Louis says of the first-ever event, held in the same city 23 years earlier. Close to 9,000 fans filtered through the Ottawa Civic Centre doors March 15, 1990 to see Canada beat the United States 5-2 for the gold medal. “Ottawa was on fire at the time; everybody was wearing pink and the (arena) was going crazy.”
While Team Canada wore pink and white jerseys to help publicize the 1990 IIHF Women’s World Championship, this year’s event featured black and yellow jerseys worn for that opening game against Finland, in support of the Livestrong Foundation to raise money for cancer awareness and research, in partnership with Hockey Canada sponsors Nike and Sport Chek.
Canada’s National Women’s Team alumnae who took in that game were thrilled to receive their own black Team Canada sweaters.
“It was kind of like the old days, but at least (they) were in our size,” St-Louis says with a chuckle. “We were laughing about that, because usually we (received) T-shirts in XL; the old stuff from the guys, that they were not wearing anymore.”
“But at the time we didn’t care, because we were so happy to be on the team,” she says, adding the support national team players now receive is a sign of the sport’s growth both in terms of societal acceptance and skill level. “They shoot the puck better, the training has changed so much and … the speed has improved.”
Meeting up with former teammates in the Capital City certainly brought back memories of winning that first women’s worlds gold medal, but the reunion itself was focused primarily on the 1992 IIHF Women’s World Championship in Tampere, Finland; the 1994 IIHF Women’s World Championship in Lake Placid, N.Y.; and the 1997 IIHF Women’s World Championship in Kitchener, Ont.
“In ’92 I was named captain, so for me that was really special,” St-Louis says. “And in ’94 it was also special, because that’s when we really found out that we were going to be in the Olympics.”
Sunohara of Scarborough, Ont., also dreamed of playing in the Olympics, and after representing Canada at that very first women’s world championship, rejoined St-Louis and her other teammates to win her second gold medal at the 1997 women’s worlds in Kitchener.
“It brought back a lot of memories for me,” Sunohara said of this year’s reunion, which also featured a VIP meet and greet with current members of Canada’s National Women’s Team, an alumnae brunch with Hockey Canada executives, a hot stove session hosted by the Ontario Women’s Hockey Association and a hospitality suite at the Sheraton Ottawa for sharing old memories and making new ones. “Just going back there, and seeing the girls, we had so many laughs about what we did, and what we went through.”