When Ève Gascon first arrived at training camp to audition for the Phénix du Collège Esther-Blondin in the fall of 2018, the then-15-year-old was not expected to make any noise.
“She wasn’t in our plans,” admits Paulin Bordeleau, head coach of the Ligue de hockey midget AAA du Québec (LHMAAAQ) team. “We had a goaltender coming back from the year before, and I would say we had two other prospects that were ahead of her at the time.”
History was also working against the native of Terrebonne, Que. – no woman had ever served as a full-time goaltender in the Midget league.
Gascon, who starred in net for the Basses-Laurentides Conquérants Bantam AAA squad from 2016-18, decided to make her historic bid for a spot in the Midget AAA ranks out of a desire to continue playing with her Conquérants teammates. She was attracted to the Phénix because her older brother Félix played for the organization during the 2016-17 and 2017-18 seasons.
Ultimately, by exhibiting the same tenaciousness throughout camp as she does when she makes a seemingly impossible save – a signature aspect of her game – Gascon forced herself into the history books.
“I was proud of myself, but afterwards I realized I could not complete this accomplishment without my parents and brothers,” says Gascon. “I was proud of myself and thankful for them.”
She performed admirably in her rookie season with Esther-Blondin, posting a goals-against average of 4.14 and an .866 save percentage. Her sophomore campaign has thus far been more remarkable; she has cut the former figure down to 3.01 and elevated the latter to .905 as of the end of October.
Bordeleau cites her great lateral movement, never-give-up approach and desire to be a good teammate as chief reasons for her success.
By securing herself a place in history, Gascon has gained more than 2,000 followers on Instagram and numerous autograph requests. The 16-year-old treasures that she can count Charline Labonté as one of her biggest fans and as a mentor.
“I am very happy to have her in my entourage,” says Gascon. “She is very helpful to me, whether it be advice on hockey or life. She has taught me how to always be in the present moment, and I am grateful for that.”
Thanks to mutual family friends, the three-time Olympic gold medallist and two-time world champion has been in Gascon’s life for nearly five years. Their bond has steadily developed through consistent communication via phone calls and text messages, attending each other’s games and a few on-ice sessions together.
Labonté views Gascon as a kindred spirit; the long-time member of Canada’s National Women’s Team broke the mould herself by becoming just the second woman to tend goal in the QMJHL. Labonté appeared in 28 games for the Titan de Acadie-Bathurst eight years after Manon Rhéaume played a single game for the Draveurs de Trois-Rivières.
“She reminds me of myself at that age,” remarks Labonté. “I know exactly what she is going through. She is a quiet yet confident person. She doesn’t want the spotlight. She wants to play hockey and wants to go as far as she can, but the fact that she’s that good and is making history brings her all the media attention, and she has done very well with that.
“Sometimes I can’t believe I am talking to a [16-year-old] kid. She is much more mature than that.”
Labonté says she and fellow Team Canada alumnus Kim St-Pierre – also a three-time Olympic gold medallist – have excitedly discussed Gascon’s potential with the Canada’s National Women’s Team.
“I don’t want to be biased, but I feel she is the next one,” declares Labonté. “She is taking it step by step, but everywhere she has been she has been successful.”
Gascon has already proven her mettle in elite tournaments; she backstopped Quebec to a silver medal at the 2019 Canada Winter Games in Red Deer, Alta., with a tournament-leading .962 save percentage and 1.03 GAA, 20 years after Labonté won silver at the 1999 Games in Corner Brook, N.L.
She followed up those heroics during the summer by leading Canada’s National Women’s Under-18 Team to a win in its series against the United States by making 26 saves for a 2-0 shutout win in the decisive third game.
Gascon says strong self-belief has been instrumental in achieving success both on and off the ice. She advises younger players to do the same.
“Don’t listen to the people who tell you [that] you can’t achieve your goals. Work hard and never give up.”
Would Gascon like to continue following Labonté’s trajectory by playing in the QMJHL? The youth says she would certainly be keen to attend a training camp if the opportunity is presented.
Abiding by the advice of her mentor, Gascon is keeping her focus on thriving in the present moment, which means trying to capture a gold medal with Quebec at the 2019 National Women’s Under-18 Championship.