Starting a new chapter

Four-time Olympic gold-medallist Caroline Ouellette retires from Canada’s National Women’s Team after 20 seasons on the international stage

by Chris Jurewicz

Caroline Ouellette didn’t know a word of English back in the late 1990s when she first played for Team Canada at the under-22 level.

Looking back, the Montreal native recalls the nerves that came with not only being a newcomer to a national program but being in a predominantly English environment.

“I struggled with confidence at the beginning as I didn’t know any English when I started with the program,” says Ouellette. “I remember almost having to prepare word for word every speech. I would have to translate from French to English in my head and just memorize the whole speech.”

These days, you would be hard pressed to find a player who can speak – in either of Canada’s two official languages – with such great emotion and passion that it sends chills down your spine.

ouellette captain

Ouellette, who played 220 games for the national team – primarily as a dominant power forward, but also as a defenceman – retires from her playing career with some of the best statistics in Team Canada history, but most importantly, as one of the team’s great leaders.

Scoring 87 goals and tallying 155 assists for 242 points, Ouellette is the only Canadian athlete (in any sport) to enter at least four career Olympic events and win gold in all of them, standing atop the podium in 2002, 2006, 2010 and, finally, as Canada’s captain in 2014.

oullette st pierre

Olympic memories

“The 2002 Olympics were my first, in Salt Lake,” says Ouellette. “I was one of the youngest players and everything was new and exciting for me. We faced a lot of adversity that year as we lost eight straight games to the United States and our leaders were doing everything they could to deal with that. I remember also that I was just trying to survive day-to-day to be there on the Olympic team.”

That Olympic final is one of many legendary Canada-U.S. battles that Ouellette was a part of, given Canada took eight-straight penalties in the first and second periods, and held off an American rally in the third for a 3-2 win. The eventual winning goal was a memorable one off the stick of Jayna Hefford, Ouellette’s long-time linemate, when Hefford scored on a breakaway with less than a second left in the second period.

Over the next few years, Ouellette’s confidence grew. She was a more impactful player and used in more situations. Her leadership skills were also being honed and she credits Cassie Campbell-Pascall in helping with that development.

“I remember Cassie’s words on leadership,” says Ouellette. “She said that leaders need to agree to disagree but never do so in front of the rest of the team. That it was OK to have different opinions but we have to remain united as a team. I will always remember that.”

ouellette 2010

The 2010 Olympics were special for other reasons. Ouellette remembers the sheer pride that Canadians had in the rink, on the streets, and everywhere in between during Vancouver’s and Canada’s Games.

“Vancouver was incredible,” she says.

I remember walking around the city and everyone was in red and white. I will never forget stepping on to the ice for the final game and there were more Team Canada jerseys than I have ever seen in my life.
ouellette with puck

Ouellette’s final Olympics came in 2014 in Sochi, Russia. That journey provided Ouellette and her teammates a whole set of new challenges. There were coaching and captaincy changes for Canada in the weeks leading up to the Games, with Ouellette getting the ‘C’ in mid-January just days before leaving for a pre-Olympic camp. Canada also entered the 2014 Games as the underdog after having lost four straight games to its rivals earlier in the season.

And then there was that epic gold-medal game that included a 2-0 U.S. lead, a dramatic play that saw the Americans hit a post on an empty net that would have sealed Canada’s fate, a thrilling game-tying goal off the stick of Marie-Philip Poulin, and then, of course, Poulin’s additional heroics in overtime that sent Team Canada and 36 million Canadians into a frenzy.

“That moment was surreal. I remember when that puck hit the post, we all felt like we were destined to come back, that it was going to happen,” says Ouellette. “It’s incredible to have been part of a game where so many Canadians can remember exactly where they were and who they were with when we won gold.”

ouellette st louis

Longevity

So how did she do it? How did Ouellette play so many games with Canada’s National Women's Team, be part of four Olympics, and be an impact player for so long? Ouellette is as humble as they come in the sporting world, always giving credit to others. On her longevity, for instance, Ouellette looks to France St-Louis, a member of Canada’s first-ever Olympic team in 1998.

“France was a big mentor for me at the start of my career. She made me realize that making Team Canada is one thing but playing with the national team for a long time is an entirely different beast,” says Ouellette. “France was the greatest role model. She was very disciplined and in amazing shape. She’s the same idol for me now as an adult as she was for me then. She’s a great mentor in my life.”

Ouellette also mentions Melody Davidson, who coached Ouellette at the 2002, 2006 and 2010 Olympics. Ouellette, now a hockey coach at Concordia University and with Canada’s national program, says she has learned a great deal from Davidson.

“She told us about being an every-day player; loving the game when it’s going well and not going so well.”

Ouellette’s partner Julie Chu, whom Ouellette faced off against in three Olympic Games, says what kept Ouellette performing at such a high level for so long was a continual drive and commitment to get better.

“She was an ultimate competitor,” says Chu. “It didn’t matter if it was a practice or game, she hated to lose. And she honestly took every single rep and went as hard as she could every rep. When you do that, that’s how you end up being great. That’s how you end up improving. She’s a great example of that and she doesn’t shy away from it.”

Ouellette and Chu recently entered a new chapter of their lives with the birth of daughter Liv on Nov. 5, 2017. Ouellette says the experience of parenthood has been like no other.

“I didn’t grow up around babies or kids in my life. So I was a bit worried when I was pregnant, thinking ‘Am I going to know what to do? What if I don’t?,’ or even ‘Am I going to love being a mom?’” says Ouellette. “And then when I first met Liv, it was so powerful. I love her so much. I miss her at night when she’s sleeping and I can’t wait to see her in the morning. It’s the greatest blessing in the world. And I get to experience this journey with my best friend.”

Hockey is already a part of Liv’s life. In fact, Ouellette was pregnant with Liv during the 2017 Clarkson Cup final when she, Chu and their Montreal Canadiennes teammates defeated the Calgary Inferno 4-1.

“I joked with the girls after that one that we were the only team to win the Clarkson Cup with too many players on the ice,” says Ouellette with a laugh.

ouellette double headshot

Coaching the next crop

Between being a mom, coaching the Concordia Stingers, Les Canadiennes, and with Canada’s national program (Ouellette was part of the 2017 IIHF Women’s World Championship coaching staff), Ouellette won’t have too much time to look back. She knows she’ll miss being a player and noted that herself, Chu and Liv watched the 2018 Olympic final together and “we both miss the sense of being together with teammates and going through the ups and downs of representing your country.”

But Ouellette knows the game is in great hands. Hockey continues to get better, faster, more physical all the time and the Canadian star is ready to leave it to the next wave of players.

“I have been fortunate to coach in the Team Canada program and remember coaching Poulin and (Lauriane) Rougeau a few years ago when they were at the U18 level,” says Ouellette. “I was just blown away by their skill at that age. The players today start playing younger, they have better coaching. Back when I started, only a couple of players had a big shot. Now, everyone can shoot the puck, everyone is fast and the games are so physical and intense.”