After six years playing hockey at Concordia, the goaltender looks ahead to a future in professional hockey
It was a rainy evening in March 2022 when Alice Philbert walked into the MacLauchlan Arena in P.E.I. with a championship game ahead of her. The goaltender and her teammates played their hearts out, and the Concordia Stingers exited the building that night as national champions.
In her 18 years playing hockey, six of which she’s spent with Concordia, this will be a moment that Philbert will remember for the rest of her life.
“It’s the nationals, it’s not something you live every day, or every year,” she said.
In her career at Concordia, the 26-year-old has won three RSEQ championships, as well as bronze, silver and gold medals at the national championship.
“She’s a winner,” said Olivier Gervais, her goaltender coach of the past two years. “There are a lot of good athletes, but not everyone is a winner. Alice learned to win [and] she showed it.”
But the 2022 national championship win means more to her than a trophy and a medal.
With a full year without hockey in 2020-21 because of COVID-19, and more shutdowns in the winter of the 2021-22 season, overcoming these challenges meant an even sweeter victory.
But in addition to COVID hardships, Philbert had lost her grandmother a few weeks before the playoffs last year. Alice and her sister Léonie — a defender for the Stingers — wanted to win it for their grandmother.
“The fact that she told us ‘go beat Montreal,’ and then after that ‘I know you can win the nationals,’ was extra motivation for us to do it for her.”
Philbert also remembers feeling her grandmother’s presence during the tournament.
“My grandmother was there to save us,” she said. “My three shutouts, I know my grandmother was with me. At some point, the puck hit the post and then I put my glove right on time to stop it, I think my grandmother was there to help me with that.”
Having their parents with them in P.E.I. during the championship was also unbelievable, Philbert said.
“It was a big moment for our family, I think it brought us closer together,” she added. “It reunited us with our cousins too, they were all watching us. We’re about thirty in our family, so it reunited the family, and it’s a moment I’ll never forget.”
Playing with her sister was nothing new. Alice grew up playing with her sisters Léonie and Zoé at the midget level, and kept playing with Léonie at Dawson College and then at Concordia.
“For sure I’d rather have her on my team than playing against me,” Philbert joked. “I wouldn’t have liked having her scoring against me. It’s like, do our parents clap or not?”
She added, on a serious note, that she likes playing with her sister and knowing she has her back.
“It’s fun to know your sister is here for you, to support you, no matter if you get scored against or if you make a nice save,” Philbert said. “In all situations, I know Léonie is here for me and it’s fun to have someone to rely on.”
Philbert first started playing hockey as a forward at eight years old. She switched to defence in her second year when her team needed defenders. It wasn’t until another three years, when one of the goaltenders couldn’t make it to a playoff game, that she took it as an opportunity to try it out. She kept playing defence but would practice as a goaltender.
She had to compromise with her father to play goaltender, as long as she would pay for her own equipment.
“We were four kids, and at that age you grow quickly so it’s expensive, and at that age you don’t work,” she laughed. “So all my gifts for my birthday, for Christmas, even from my aunts, uncles, grandparents, it went to my parents to pay for the equipment.”
It was ultimately at 13 years old that she really started goaltending, after wanting to do it for a little while.
“Every shot is a different challenge, you never know what can happen,” she said. “It was a challenge for me. We were four kids, four skaters, I was like ‘no, I want to have my own thing, be in my own world.’”
Gervais, who had first met her that year, still remembers what stood out about her at such a young age.
“It was her determination, she wanted to stop the puck and it was her will to get better, that was remarkable,” he said. “And when I started coaching her again [in the summer of 2021], that’s exactly what I saw again, her determination and will to be the best and stop everything. It’s one of her biggest qualities.”
This determination helped her overcome one of the greatest obstacles she faced growing up: being a girl in a boys’ team.
The Saint-Bruno-de-Montarville native had always played in boys’ teams since there weren’t many girls’ teams at the time and the closest was in Sainte-Hyacinthe.
After playing her first two years as a goaltender with a boys’ team at the bantam level, it was the following year that things started getting rocky.
“I get there on the first day of training camp and the guys knew me, we had played together the previous year, and they were like ‘oh it’s fun we’re going to play together this year too,’” Philbert said. “But then the coach comes to get me from the locker room and tells me not to get dressed there. He says ‘you’re not making the team, I don’t want girls on the team.’”
Philbert acknowledged sexist behaviour from that coach, but also pointed out that’s unfortunately how it was back then. It was that year that she started playing with an all-girls team.
Now, looking ahead, the plan for Philbert is to play professional hockey, either in the Premier Hockey Federation (PHF) in North America, or in the Swedish Women’s Hockey League.
As well, Philbert will be walking on the Concordia stage this summer after having earned a graduate diploma in business administration. She also has a bachelor’s degree in therapeutic recreation, which she could put to use eventually, perhaps working with elderly people and helping them stay healthy and active.
But her top priority for the moment remains hockey.
“I’m not ready to stop playing hockey,” Philbert said. “And I’ll never know [what can come out of it] if I don’t try. I don’t want to regret anything.”
Navigating the world of professional women’s hockey is new for her, and for a lot of people, with the PHF’s $1.5 million USD salary cap and $30,000 USD minimum salary having been introduced recently.
For this reason, Philbert decided to get an agent to help her navigate this new business aspect of hockey and help her find the perfect fit.
As a Montrealer, there was no doubt Philbert was interested in playing for the Force, Montreal’s new PHF team that just finished playing its inaugural season.
“I’m Québécoise, I would love to represent my city,” she stated.
However, things didn’t go how she thought they would.
Gervais is confident that Philbert will find a team in no time though, whether in North America or Europe — and that her accomplishments and winner mindset will help her.
“She has all the capacity, not only to play, but mostly to perform, so I wouldn’t be surprised that she finds a number one spot,” he said. “I think the pros need to see [that she’s a winner]. You want to add someone on your team that can win you championships and get you far, and Alice is the right person for that.”
With everything Philbert has accomplished at the university level, the future doesn’t have limits for her. If there’s one thing she won’t stop doing it’s fighting and winning, no matter what she’s pursuing in life.