Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen. Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson. Batman and Robin. There have been many great duos over the years, and now you can add another one from women’s hockey to that list.
Charline Labonté and Kim St-Pierre are both members of Team Canada for the 2007 IIHF World Women’s Hockey Championship. They are both goaltenders, both from Quebec, and both fans of Pittsburgh Penguins netminder Marc-Andre Fleury. In addition, they took nearly identical paths to get where they are today.
Labonté, a 24-year-old native of Boisbriand, started playing hockey at the age of seven. She spent two seasons playing both hockey and ringette, but the hectic schedule was too much for her parents to handle. Deciding hockey was the perfect fit for her, Labonté focused her time and energy on learning from other Quebec goaltenders.
“My biggest role models were probably Patrick Roy, Jocelyn Thibault and other Quebec goalies. But now it’s 100 percent Marc-Andre Fleury, he’s by far my favourite. When he got to the NHL, my teammates kept saying that he had the exact same style as me, so I think that he must have copied me because I’m older than him,” said Labonté with a chuckle.
St-Pierre’s early hockey beginnings were similar, except that she laced up the figure skates long before ever picking up a hockey stick. The 28-year-old from Châteauguay did eventually get into hockey, though, also as an admirer of Patrick Roy, and much to the surprise of her parents.
“My two brothers and my dad were involved in hockey and every winter they would build a rink in the backyard,” said St-Pierre. “I was the only one figure skating, and I thought it looked fun to play hockey. So I tried it and I really liked it. I asked my parents if I could play on a real team and they looked at me like, ‘Are you serious?’ But they gave me the chance to try it, and I loved it.”
Both Labonté and St-Pierre fought hard to get where they are today. It goes without saying that they were both typically the only girls on their teams in their younger years. Overcoming obstacles has helped both goalies form the best one-two punch between the pipes in women’s hockey.
From a certain perspective, their success isn’t all that surprising, as dominant netminders have emerged from La Belle Province with regularity over the years.
“We are very lucky to have great goalie coaches in Quebec, and I think it all starts with François Allaire, who was the Montreal Canadiens’ goalie coach,” said LaBonté. “I think it just started with him and his butterfly style. I went to his hockey school for many years so I learnt a lot.”
“I think it’s because we had such great role models growing up, and even right now in the NHL with Marc-Andre Fleury,” added St-Pierre. “We have good hockey schools all over the province and great goalie coaches too.”
Teammates since the 2001 Three Nations Cup in Finland, Labonté and St-Pierre have become very good friends, and they even lived together this past summer in Calgary, Alberta.
With so much in common, it’s easy to understand how Labonté and St-Pierre get along so well. Labonté insists that even though both women compete for the same starting position every day, they leave their emotions on the ice.
“Kim and I have been good friends since I met her. We’re playing for the same thing, and as goalies, it’s always tough because one of you is going to be on the ice and one of you is going to be on the bench. But we understand that and that’s our job. We don’t talk about that stuff. When we are off the ice, we’re friends, and on the ice we’re friends again, but still we’re fighting for the same spot.”
Team Canada Head Coach Melody Davidson is always guarded about announcing which goalie will get the start in a particular game. But regardless of which of these talented women gets the call, her partner will surely be right there to support her.