A touch of gold hides behind the bench

Ouelette (Photo David S. Landsman)
Caroline Ouelette holds up her Olympic gold medal from Vancouver 2010 (Photo David S. Landsman)

Most hockey fans of all ages remember the triumphs Canada’s hockey teams went through in Vancouver in 2010, when both the men and women’s teams took home the gold medal.

For Caroline Ouellette, the assistant coach of the Concordia Stingers women’s hockey team, she was there, in the thick of the action, playing for national pride, and she recalls the memories fondly.

“It was a pretty unbelievable experience, with the whole journey leading up to it,” said Ouellette. “It was so exhausting mentally and physically, but when we achieved our goal, the journey came to a full circle.”

Thirty-five-year-old Ouellette has had the distinction of playing in the past three Olympic games: in Salt Lake City, Torino and, most recently, in Vancouver. She has helped lead her team to a gold medal in each of them.

Serving as a leader on Team Canada, she was asked last summer if she would consider bringing her leadership skills to help the Concordia Stingers women’s hockey team and work alongside Les Lawton and his 31 years of experience; Harry Yeramian and his 10 years; and her teammate on the Montreal Stars, Lisa-Marie Breton.

“Breton approached me with a proposition, and it was such a great offer allowing me to coach [part-time],” said Ouellette. “I’m so very thankful to Les and his organization for allowing me to join their squad.”

Not many people know this unless they’ve really done their homework but, in fact, Ouellette played half a year under Lawton during the 2000-01 season.

“I was in the middle of a transition, I had just finished my police tech course and I figured I knew I’d get good training for Salt Lake,” she said. “Being able to go to school, get practices and for the first time being able to study in English, it really helped me. It was a great environment.”

The Rosemont native credits France St. Louis, a member of the national team since 1999 and her idol, when it comes to her style of play. She remembers attending her hockey school when she was 12, looking up to her and being amazed by game. She remembers how in St. Louis’s last world championship they became teammates and roommates.

After Ouellette’s short stint with the Stingers, she traveled south of the border and went on to play three seasons with University of Minnesota-Duluth where she learned some of her coaching tactics.

“My college coach Shannon Miller really helped make the best of all her players. She held a leadership half-full stance on winning,” explained Ouellette. “She was very open to give and take, and knew what buttons to push. It was definitely a great fit, some of the best years of my life.”

Not to be outdone, she also credits Melody Davidson, her national coach in Vancouver, whom she says she has “the utmost respect” for her.

When she isn’t playing hockey for Team Canada, she is also playing for the Montreal Stars of the Canadian Women’s Hockey League, where she has helped lead her team to the Clarkson Cup in 2009 and 2010.

“When we won the Clarkson Cup, it felt just like winning the Stanley Cup,” said a smiling Ouellette. “Seeing our names engraved on it was really special; we treat it like it’s the Stanley Cup.”

Ouellette also serves as ambassador for RBC Olympian Program, and the Right to Play initiative. Both have allowed her help showcase her skills and share her stories.

With Right to Play, in 2010, she got the opportunity to travel to Benin in Africa, a trip she recalls as a “mind-blowing experience.” She saw things around her that really grounded her, and made her realize how lucky we are.

Ouellette was also bestowed upon her by the mayor of her hometown of Rosemont with an arena in her name, what she describes as “one of the most humbling things that has ever happened to me.”

At Concordia, she is nothing but thrilled to be a part of the organization.

“It’s really a great opportunity, and I’m glad to develop such a great relationship with the girls,” she said. “It really is the best situation. I can show my skills and they can teach me. Knowledge gained and acquired.”

Next up for Ouellette is the women’s national tournament in the beginning of April. Afterwards she hopes to join Team Canada at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.

“Going there and representing my country again would be unbelievable,” said Ouellette. “But for now, we’ll just have to wait and see.”

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