CAROLINE OUELLETTE: Canada’s Golden Girl get call to the Hockey Hall

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A big 2023 Hockey Hall of Fame class covers a lot of ice.

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Three goalies, a general manager and a trio of greats among NHL players, coaches and international women’s hockey will join the puck pantheon this Monday. It brings the Hall’s total residency to 298 players, including ten women, 115 builders and 16 on-ice officials.

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Debate on who else should be nominated by the secretive 18-person selection committee is an endless exercise, but won’t take away from a memorable ceremony in Toronto this weekend for these seven inductees. Here’s one of their stories.

CAROLINE OUELLETTE

BORN: May 25, 1979, Montreal, Que.

HALL PASS: Four Olympic gold medals with Team Canada’s women’s national team in 2002, ‘06, ‘10 and 14), six golds in 12 appearances at the women’s worlds and six silver medals … The latter tournament includes her game/title-winning overtime goal in 2012 … Member of the women’s Triple Gold Club as one of only three to win a Clarkson Cup, Olympic gold and IIHF World Championship gold … At age 17, charter member of the Canadian U-19 team in 1996, won gold with Canada’s U-18 team a year later … Member of the IIHF Hall of Fame.

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BY THE NUMBERS: Games played (world championships and Olympics): 79 (44- 65-109, goals, assists, points) with 48 penalty minutes … While at the University of Minnesota-Duluth, had 229 career points, for a top-10 ranking in the NCAA … In the former Canadian Women’s Hockey League with Montreal, won the Angela James Bowl as the leading scorer in 2010-11 with 68 points and was the first player in CWHL to pass the 300-point plateau.

THE STORY: Minor hockey in 2023 is a very much a sport for the well-to-do, but not the case for a young girl trying to break in during the late 1980s.

“We were not really a wealthy family,” Ouellette told Sportsnet, reflecting on her path to the Hall, “This is a way for me to show my parents how grateful I am. They followed me everywhere and made sacrifices. That really means the world to me.

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“I started at age nine, which was pretty late compared to my teammates, and it took me two years to convince my parents to let me play. I played with the boys from 9 to 17 as the only girl on my team. That, and everything I’ve heard through the years, that girls were being bullied for it, basically because they did not play hockey, that’s what built the drive in me to do more to put girls in hockey.”

Her efforts began in 2014 with a non-profit organization to get more females in the game, not just on the ice in a high-performance hockey school she helped run, but to meet the Olympic team stars and be more aware of options such as U.S. scholarships and academic advancement while playing at Canadian schools.

The new Professional Women’s League is the latest step.

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“I know today that some girls are still facing resistance and hearing mean things. I want them to know that’s OK as long as they find the passion and follow their dreams. We can do so much as Olympians to grow our sport and it’s only the beginning. The (PWHL) calibre is fantastic and there will be a fan base for it.”

Ouellette currently is the associate head coach of the women’s team at Concordia University in Montreal.

“I love working with people that love what they do and want to get better at it. I wake up every day and don’t feel like I’m working. I feel like I’m teaching a game to people that want to learn, that want to be there.”

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DID YOU KNOW: While at Minnesota-Duluth, she achieved a degree in criminology.

QUOTE: “I never thought as a young girl that I would get the privilege to play in the Olympics, let alone to get inducted alongside so many unbelievable men and women in the Hall of Fame. I am so grateful that hockey continues to bring so much joy into my life.”

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