Rock ‘em Sock ‘em hockey with the Montreal Stars

Richard Burnett

She is a member of the Canadian national women's hockey team, has won two Olympic hockey gold medals for Canada, and is a member of the Montreal Stars of the powerhouse Canadian Women’s Hockey League. But the trophies and accolades are not why out and proud Sherbrooke native Sarah Vaillancourt loves playing hockey.

“It’s more than just about the speed and freedom of skating on the ice – it’s really about everything else, like the noise of the ice when it breaks!” says the 27-year-old forward for the Montreal Stars. “That’s what keeps me playing year after year! When I stop feeling challenged, when I stop feeling the chills every time I step onto the ice, that’s when I know it’ll be time to quit.”

The Stars and CWHL were born in 2007 following the demise of the NWHL. The Stars have since won three Clarkson Cups (in 2009, 2011 and 2012) and the team’s current roster boasts Olympians, former NCAA/CIS captains, national team hopefuls, 3 reality TV stars, and ex-college stars. Stars teammates Caroline Ouellette, Sarah Vaillancourt and Meghan Agosta became household names because of the Olympic gold medals Team Canada won in Salt Lake City, Turin and Vancouver. The Stars are currently generating more media and fan interest than ever before, what with the NHL’s 2012-2013 player lockout.

“My dream at 12 was to become an Olympian and play for Canada,” says Vaillancourt, who has also fully recovered from hip surgery she underwent this past January. “Before that it was the impossible dream of playing in the NHL and winning the Stanley Cup. Little did I know. So I was thrilled when women’s hockey was first introduced in the Olympics in 1998.”

Vaillancourt has been skating since she was two-and-a-half years old. “My parents had a rink in the back yard and I was really afraid to go on the ice until my parents found some equipment that would fit me. From that point on I never wanted to quit the ice!”

Vaillancourt continues, “When I began playing with the guys at age five – the first time I could really compare myself – I was way ahead of them. By the time I was a teenager most of the guys knew I was better than them and they were over it. It was hardest for them to accept when they were around nine and 10 years old.”

Vaillancourt – a Harvard University psychology grad who also teaches skills at Triolet High School in Sherbrooke for the Eastern Townships School Board’s Sport-Études program – would go on to win a World Championships gold medal, four World Championships silver medals and two Clarkson Cups. From 2003 to 2009 Vaillancourt played 88 international games for Team Canada and scored 36 goals adding 39 assists. And she helped win two Olympic gold medals for Team Canada, in 2006 and 2010.

“I thought winning my first gold medal in 2006 was going to be the one I would remember forever because it was the first one,” Vaillancourt says. “But I was young. Winning gold the second time around in Vancouver meant even more since we came back from losing two world championships against the United States. It was a big challenge.”

Vaillancourt also thinks women’s hockey should not be removed from the Olympics until the rest of the world catches up. “Hockey has been there forever but women’s hockey hasn’t. It’s still a new game. Keeping it in the Olympics will only help it grow, like the CWHL. We need this to help young girls dream that they too can go to the Olympics. Eliminating women’s hockey from the Olympics would only deny women the chance to play hockey – again.”

As for an integrated NHL, the five-foot-six-inch, 139-pound Vaillancourt says, ‘Physically that’s not possible. The guys are just too strong and too fast which is why it’s better for us to focus on our own league. Although the men’s league could do a lot to help us out.”

But the old-boys clubs continues to ignore the CWHL – even during the NHL’s 2012-2013 season player lockout. “I think they’re just not taking us seriously,” Vaillancourt sighs. “They could benefit the game more by helping us out instead of worrying about making millions.”

That said, Vaillancourt reminds me that sports are just that – sports. “We’re not out there saving lives like teachers and doctors. We’re just athletes.”

Still, Vaillancourt appreciates that she and her teammates are role models not just for young girls, but young boys too. “It doesn’t happen on the same level as with NHL players because the kids don’t really get to see us [play]. If only our league got a fraction of the media coverage that the Montreal Canadiens get in Quebec, it would do wonders for our sport.”

Check out The Montreal Stars 2012-2013 home schedule at Arena Etienne-Desmarteau (3430 Bellechasse in Rosemont) on the Montreal Stars official CWHL

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