When you’re 25 years old, you have fairly simple goals in life – get a steady job, start a family, and find out what life after university is going to look
like as adulthood truly begins.
For some those goals come earlier; for others, later. But 25 seems to be a nice, round place to start.
Laura Fortino, who hit the quarter-century mark on Jan. 30, has those same goals. But they can wait. For now, one rather simple goal trumps all the others:
to be the best defenceman in the world.
The 2015-16 season was certainly a step in the right direction for the Hamilton, Ont., native.
Fortino was a force at both ends of the ice for the Brampton Thunder; she finished just one point behind Jamie Lee Rattray for the team scoring lead, led
all Canadian Women’s Hockey League (CWHL) defencemen in points, with 28, and was the lone blue-liner to crack the top 10 in the CWHL scoring race.
“I was focused, and I had a great year, and I really wanted to make that statement of being the best,” she says. “I always work towards being the best, and
I think I had great teammates to play along with, and the success of the team certainly helped with mine, for sure.”
Fortino played a starring role in the Thunder’s turnaround from last-place finish to Clarkson Cup contender; Brampton earned just three regulation-time
wins in 24 games in 2014-15, but improved to 13-3-1-7 (W-OTW-OTL-L) this year, and gave the eventual Clarkson Cup champions from Calgary a scare in the
For her efforts, Fortino took home CWHL Defenceman of the Year honours, and was a finalist for league MVP.
She edged out a pair of Canadiennes de Montréal blue-liners for the Defenceman of the Year award – former U.S. Olympic captain Julie Chu and Team Canada
standout Lauriane Rougeau – and joined a pair of her 2014 Olympic teammates as recipients of the honour.
“It means a lot,” Fortino says. “I was pretty humbled and honoured to receive that. I look at previous winners like Catherine Ward and [Tara] Watchorn;
it’s just great [defencemen] that won that. With the calibre of defencemen we have across the league; to win that and be nominated for MVP was pretty
Beating Rougeau for the award also gave Fortino extra bragging rights; the two have been long-time teammates and friends, going back to their early days in
the Team Canada program.
They were roommates at the inaugural IIHF World Women’s U18 Championship in Calgary, Alta., in 2008 – Rougeau the captain, Fortino the under-age newcomer –
helping Canada to a silver medal on home ice.
A year later they came together again, this time at Cornell University, helping the Big Red to three NCAA Frozen Four appearances in four years, with
Fortino earning three NCAA First Team All-American nods.
And they’ve patrolled the blue-line together with Canada’s National Women’s Team since 2011, winning an IIHF Women’s World Championship gold in 2012, and
the memorable Olympic gold in 2014.
So if there is anyone qualified to talk about Fortino and her development, it’s her Francophone friend.
“She has gotten so much better,” Rougeau says. “She is faster, using her speed a lot, always in motion, quick feet. She has really worked hard on her shot,
on her offensive game, and throughout the four years at Cornell she was always there to push me to be better, and I’d do the same to her; she made me a
But who – or what – made Fortino better?
While she’s quick to credit her coaches and teammates, both with the Thunder and the national team, Fortino says being part of the Team Canada program is
what has allowed her to unlock her potential.
“For me, it’s the little things like preparation, and making sure my body is always healthy, and that I’m always at the top of my game,” she says. “I think
learning these things from the Team Canada program, you always have to be at your best, and they teach you to be at your best, so I think I try to carry
that through my everyday life, no matter what I’m doing.”
As good as Fortino’s season has been, it has the potential to get even better, with Team Canada welcoming the world to Kamloops for the 2016 IIHF Women’s
World Championship in search of an 11th world title.
After the year she has had, Fortino is riding a wave of confidence coming into the women’s worlds. She earned a spot on the media all-star team in 2012,
but feels this could be her time to shine.
“It’s huge for me,” she says of her CWHL success. “Having that confidence, bringing it here, and knowing I can dominate at that level. Knowing the level I
can reach, I really want to bring that and be successful.”
And how does a world championship win on home ice sound?
“It’s hard to put into words what that would mean. Winning a world championship here in Canada would mean the world to me and our team. We have a really
strong group, and I’m excited to see what happens.”