Empowering women through sports

hen Ouellette isn’t playing for Les Canadiennes, she is a skills coach for the Concordia Stingers. Photos by Yacine Bouhali.

Concordia Stingers skills coach, Caroline Ouellette, is inspiring young hockey players

Through hockey, Les Canadiennes de Montréal forward Caroline Ouellette hopes to empower young women by teaching them the lessons she has learned throughout her time playing the game.

Ouellette has been an integral part of the Canadian women’s national hockey team since 1999. The four-time Olympian has never lost in a final, winning gold in 2002, 2006, 2010 and 2014. According to CBC Olympics, she is third all-time in games played for the national team.

As someone with deep ties to the hockey community, Ouellette said “it’s a responsibility for Olympians to give back.”

When Ouellette is not playing for Les Canadiennes de Montréal, she coaches the Concordia Stingers women’s hockey team as a skills and development coach. She is also the owner of the Caroline Ouellette High Performance hockey camps, located in Quebec, Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick and Newfoundland.

Her love for the game is what led her to start coaching and mentoring young women. She said she finds motivation through teaching girls to become confident and assertive—characteristics she feels will help them later in life.

“[When they] face the world, they will have the confidence to become anything they desire,” Ouellette said. “When I see young girls playing, it makes me so happy, because I’ve experienced the best moments through my sport.”

Ouellette said the lessons hockey has taught her prepared her for everything she has faced in life.

At age nine, Ouellette joined a boy’s hockey league because, at the time, it was not considered a sport for girls. “You played with the boys or you didn’t play at all,” she said.

After years of perseverance and competing against boys, she joined the women’s national team at 17.

Wanda Bedard, president of the 60 Million Girls Foundation—an organization Ouellette spoke at—said she found Ouellette’s story of gender discrimination to be an inspiring story of determination and strength.

Ouellette is currently working to close the gender gap in the sport she is so passionate about. Young boys are encouraged to play hockey, while young girls don’t get that same encouragement. According to Ouellette, one problem that arises with few all-girl teams is that teams have to travel farther in order to find opponents.

Ouellette loves to see young girls play hockey.

“If we offer more programs to try hockey, girls will know if they like it, and, if they do, then [the parents are] going to be convinced,” Ouellette said.

One of the ways Ouellette encourages young girls to try hockey is during events like the third annual Girls Hockey Celebration tournament, which is taking place between Dec. 15 and 18. The tournament is expected to host 50 to 60 all-girls teams. One of the workshops offered at the tournament allows girls to borrow full sets of of equipment for free and participate in a practice led by Ouellette and various female Olympians.

Ouellette said in collaboration with Hockey Canada and Hockey Quebec, more programs should be offered where girls can borrow equipment to test the sport out.

While Ouellette hopes to encourage more young girls to play hockey, she has another dream: a professional league where female athletes are paid to play.

A professional league “would give young girls a clear path of what they can aspire to, just like how young boys who play dream of the Stanley Cup,” Ouellette said.

While young boys can pursue their dreams of playing in the NHL, it isn’t the same case for girls. Although women’s hockey becomes prominent during the Olympic games, little attention is paid to it during the four-year gap in between, she said.

According to Ouellette, in order for women to get paid to play, there must be sponsors and media coverage to bring attention to the league and a partnership with the NHL.

Her contributions to women’s hockey have not gone unnoticed. In 2013, she was the recipient of the Isobel Gathorne-Hardy Award. According to Hockey Canada, this award is given to an active player “whose values, leadership and personal traits are representative of all female athletes.”

When asked about what she would do if given the opportunity to play with the national team at the 2018 Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, she said that she would play.

“It is the greatest honour and privilege to wear that jersey and play in front of the best hockey fans in the world,” said Ouellette.

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