Being younger than her teammates is nothing new to Marie-Philip Poulin.
She made her Team Quebec debut as a 14-year-old at the National Women’s Under-18 Championship, one of four appearances the Beauceville native made for her province – all silver medals. She earned Top Forward honours as a 16-year-old in 2007 and again one year later, and added the Most Valuable Player award as well in 2008.
She was part of the first-ever National Women’s Under-18 Team in the summer of 2007, one of just five under-age players to wear the maple leaf for a three-game sweep of the United States, and added yet another Top Forward award to her trophy case at the inaugural IIHF World Women’s Under-18 Championship in 2008, where Canada won silver.
The age gap grew even more in 2009, shortly after Poulin helped Canada’s U18s to another silver at the Under-18 Worlds in Germany, when she helped Canada win silver at the IIHF World Women’s Championship in Finland, becoming the third-youngest women’s player to ever represent Canada on the international stage.
Now just months shy of her 19th birthday, Poulin is again the junior member of Team Canada, this time at the 2010 Olympic Winter Games, where she hopes to break her own personal silver medal streak and help the host country remain on top of the Olympic podium.
So does always being the youngest player in the dressing room ever get tiresome?
“Actually, I feel really lucky,” Poulin says. “I remember watching some of the players on TV when I was growing up, and now I get to be on the ice with them. It might not happen if I waited a few years to play for Team Canada.”
And if her first two Olympic performances were any indication, Team Canada fans are happy she didn’t wait to wear the red and white.
Poulin scored once and added an assist in Canada’s tournament-opening 18-0 romp over Slovakia on Saturday, and scored again in a 10-1 win over Switzerland on Monday, becoming the youngest women’s player to ever score for Canada at the Olympics.
Her goal on Monday brought the fans at UBC Thunderbird Arena to their feet – Poulin danced around a Swiss defender before pulling the puck to her backhand and going far post and in – but goals like that don’t surprise her teammates anymore.
“She has crazy skills,” says Meghan Agosta, another Canadian player who made her Olympic debut before the age of 19, in 2006. “She sees the ice well, she’s a great playmaker and she can also put the puck in the net. With her skills, she can be such a dominant player, and she has been for us. I think she’s a key player on this team.”
Poulin has also been the recipient of on-the-job training for much of the National Women’s Team’s centralization in Calgary, playing on a line with Canadian captain Hayley Wickenheiser, who knows a thing about suiting up for Team Canada at a young age – she was just past her 15th birthday when she debuted at the 1994 IIHF World Women’s Championship, the youngest player ever to play for Canada.
And with the greatest player in Canadian women’s hockey history beside her on the ice, and on the bench, Poulin has been sure to keep her eyes and ears open.
“It has been great for me,” she says of playing with Wickenheiser. “She talks to me a lot on the bench, explaining things to me, and I’m just trying to take it all in and do my best. I think just watching her, on and off the ice, learning how someone like her does things, that’s the best thing for me.”
And the best thing for Canadian fans, who hope they’ll be celebrating a gold medal come February 25.