Brigette Lacquette chokes up while thinking about how far her hockey career has come.
Four years ago, she came so close to playing for Canada at the Olympics but did not make the final cuts. On Friday, she was introduced alongside 22 others as members of the Canadian women’s national team that will represent the country at the 2018 Games in PyeongChang, that take place Feb. 9 to 25.
Lacquette is the first Indigenous player to play for the country at the Olympics. As she spoke to media about the trials she went through, including at the first major tournament she participated in as a child in Manitoba, she fought back tears.
“I guess growing up in such a small community, it wasn’t easy. When I went first went to play my first big tournament Winnipeg, I faced racism a bit there and it was tough,” she said.
Lacquette, who was named the top defenceman at the 2008 National Women’s Under-18 Championship, was part of the Westman Wildcats during their 2009 Esso Cup national championship win and set up the overtime winner at the 2010 IIHF World Women’s U18 Championship to give Canada its first-ever gold medal, said centralization with the national team this time around was just as tough as the last time.
“It is pretty special. It doesn’t feel real right now. I am super excited and I feel like I just have to pinch myself or something,” she said.
The defenceman grew up in the tiny community of Mallard, Manitoba, 330 kilometres northeast of Winnipeg with a population of about 150. Her father is Metis and her mother has treaty status with the Cote First Nation in Saskatchewan. Lacquette said she is proud of the obstacles she has overcome to realize her dream of playing at the Olympics and hopes to be an inspiration to other kids.
“Growing up, I didn’t really have that female role model to look up to. It’s just very special for me to be that role model for young First Nations girls across Canada, indigenous kids across Canada.”
From a handful of first-time Olympians to a player vying for their fourth gold medal (Meghan Agosta), the 2018 Olympic team will also feature 14 players who the gold medal at the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games and six who won the golden prize at the 2010 Vancouver Games. The centralization process started with 28 players. Erin Ambrose and Amy Potomak were released in November. On Thursday, Hockey Canada released three more players: Sarah Potomak, Halli Kryzanziak and Micah Zandee-Hart.
“When we made the final decisions, and we looked at what we needed to win gold, we felt these 23 people were going to be the 23 that we needed to have on the roster,” said head coach Laura Schuler.
The national team, going after their fifth-straight gold medal, will also mark the first time a player from Nova Scotia is on the squad. Jillian Saulnier and Blayre Turnbull both have that honour.
Saulnier’s road to Team Canada had its hurdles. She was left off the 2017 IIHF Women’s World Championship roster.
“That was definitely tough for sure. Being on this team now, all you want to do is wear that jersey with the rest of the girls. Any opportunity you have that you don’t get to do that you really take that to heart. For me, I use that as motivation to propel me forward and fortunately it got me in this room today.”
Wow this brought tears to my eyes! Beyond excited right now 🇨🇦 https://t.co/rAkBErde1u— jill saulnier (@jill_saulnier) December 22, 2017
Prior to heading to PyeongChang, the team will resume its Esso Series schedule with five games against Alberta Midget Hockey League opponents in the New Year.
The Olympic women’s hockey tournament opens on Saturday, Feb. 10 at the Kwandong Hockey Centre and culminates on Thursday, Feb. 22 at the Gangneung Hockey Centre. Canada is scheduled to compete in Group A and begins preliminary-round play on Sunday, Feb. 11.
Bringing along the first timers is captain Marie-Philip Poulin (Beauceville, Que./Montreal, CWHL).
“Having that group of veterans around the past couple years was awesome. Now we have young faces coming up and it is so exciting. As veterans we take the role very seriously. We have looked up to them and having big shoes to fill is quite the honour,” said Poulin.
Canada’s roster includes three goaltenders, six defencemen, and 14 forwards:
Goaltenders: Ann-Renée Desbiens (La Malbaie, Que./University of Wisconsin, WCHA), Geneviève Lacasse (Kingston, Ont./Calgary, CWHL), Shannon Szabados (Edmonton, Alta.)
Defencemen: Renata Fast (Burlington, Ont./Toronto, CWHL), Laura Fortino (Hamilton, Ont./Markham, CWHL), Brigette Lacquette (Mallard, Man./Calgary, CWHL), Jocelyne Larocque (Ste. Anne, Man./Markham, CWHL), Meaghan Mikkelson (St. Albert, Alta./Calgary, CWHL), Lauriane Rougeau (Beaconsfield, Que./Montreal, CWHL);
Forwards: Meghan Agosta (Ruthven, Ont.), Bailey Bram (Ste. Anne, Man./Calgary, CWHL), Emily Clark (Saskatoon, Sask./University of Wisconsin, WCHA), Mélodie Daoust (Valleyfield, Que./Montreal, CWHL), Haley Irwin (Thunder Bay, Ont./Calgary, CWHL), Brianne Jenner (Oakville, Ont./Calgary, CWHL), Rebecca Johnston (Sudbury, Ont./Calgary, CWHL) Sarah Nurse (Hamilton, Ont./University of Wisconsin, WCHA), Marie-Philip Poulin (Beauceville, Que./Montreal, CWHL), Jillian Saulnier (Halifax/Calgary, CWHL), Natalie Spooner (Scarborough, Ont./Toronto, CWHL), Laura Stacey (Kleinburg, Ont./Markham, CWHL), Blayre Turnbull (Stellarton, N.S./Calgary, CWHL), Jennifer Wakefield (Pickering, Ont./Linköping HC, SWE).
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