by Mark Staffieri
While the CWHL is proud to have its members don the Canadian jersey in anticipation of the Olympic Winter Games in Sochi, Russia, a landmark moment has only added to the prestige. Caroline Ouellette, all-time leading scorer in Montreal Stars history, has been bestowed Canada’s captaincy by Canada’s National Women’s Team head coach Kevin Dineen, who competed in the 1987 Canada Cup, and his coaching staff.
Such an honour makes Ouellette, a Montreal, Que., native, the first active player in CWHL history to serve as Canada’s captain in women’s hockey at the Olympics. Following in the proud footsteps of past captains such as Stacy Wilson (1998), Cassie Campbell (2002, 2006) and Hayley Wickenheiser (2010), it marks the beginning of a new chapter in a storied career that has featured CWHL milestones such as the 2011 Angela James Bowl and three Clarkson Cup championships.
Ironically, Canada’s other captains at Sochi also have ties to the CWHL. Sidney Crosby, whose mother Trina is a member of the CWHL’s board of directors, shall serve as the captain for Canada’s National Men’s Team. Greg Westlake, appointed captain of Canada’s National Sledge Team, is a teammate of Billy Bridges, whose wife, Sami Jo Small, is a co-founder of the CWHL.
In addition, the prestige of the captaincy translates into two other milestones for Ouellette. Not only does it make her the first player in the storied history of the Montreal Stars to serve as Canada’s captain, but she is also the first competitor born in Quebec to serve as captain. Having grown up in the Montreal area and given back to the community as a coach at the CEGEP and CIS levels, there is a strong feeling of regional pride for Stars fans in this appointment.
She will be joined by two other CWHL players that shall serve as alternate captains on a rotating basis; teammate Catherine Ward of the Montreal Stars, also from Montreal, and Jayna Hefford, who is from Kingston, Ont., and plays for the Brampton Thunder. The other alternate captain, Hayley Wickenheiser, formerly of the University Calgary Dinos, was also appointed alternate captain for Sochi 2014.
As a side note, Hefford reached an accomplishment similar to Ouellette. At the 2013 IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship, Hefford served as Canada’s captain in a handful of games. By donning the “C” on her sweater, it made her the first active CWHL player to serve as a captain at the women’s worlds.
Heading into Sochi, Ouellette becomes only the fifth player in Canadian women’s hockey history to appear in four Olympics. The others include Hefford, Wickenheiser, Jennifer Botterill, who was the first winner of the Angela James Bowl, and former Burlington Barracudas captain Becky Kellar.
Of note, a gold medal at Sochi 2014 would provide Ouellette with another rare accomplishment. Along with Hefford and Wickenheiser, they would become the first three women to earn four career gold medals in ice hockey at the Olympics.
For many CWHL players who are making their Olympic debut at Sochi – such as Geneviève Lacasse, Natalie Spooner, Jenn Wakefield and Tara Watchorn, to name a few – the opportunity to learn from Ouellette about competing on the world’s biggest stage is a valued one. Considering Ouellette is the first woman in hockey history to have earned a Clarkson Cup, IIHF women’s worlds gold, Olympic gold and an NCAA Frozen Four title, she is clearly a living legend in her sport. Such mentorship will only make Canada’s Olympic “rookies” better players and leaders once they return to CWHL ice.
Although it marks the first time in Ouellette’s 14-year career with Canada’s National Women’s Team that she shall serve in a captain’s role, it is a fitting way to pay tribute to a stellar athlete and a remarkable individual. While any gold medal triumph at Sochi shall truly comprise a team effort, the leadership efforts of Ouellette, along with Hefford, Ward and Wickenheiser, shall only serve to enhance what will stand as a remarkable career pinnacle for “Captain Caro.”