MONTREAL — Four-time Olympic gold medallist Charline Labonte is retiring from the Canadian Women’s Hockey League.
The veteran goaltender announced last year she would not try to make the national team for the 2018 Winter Games in South Korea, but continued to play for the CWHL’s Les Canadiennes.
She also began work on a post-hockey career, taking classes at the Ecole des Metiers de la Restauration et du Tourisme de Montreal, a top school for aspiring chefs.
The 34-year-old made the announcement Monday at Les Demoiselles, a restaurant and coffee shop where she has worked part-time under chef Vanessa Trahan, a graduate of the same school.
"Last season there were a couple of times where I felt I wasn’t sure if I wanted to do this anymore," Labonte said. "Practices at 9 p.m. or long road trips on the bus and being away from my family. Everything that didn’t bother me before started to bother me a bit so that was kind of like a cue to say maybe it’s time to go."
Labonte first made her name when she became only the second female to play in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League after goalie Manon Rheaume. After playing on high-level boys teams in Boisbriand, Que., she was drafted by the Acadie-Bathurst Titan. She didn’t think she’d make the team, but ended up dressing for 26 games in 1999-2000.
Her numbers weren’t great — going 4-9-2 with a 5.22 goals-against average and a .841 save percentage — but the experience helped put her on the women’s national team, where she was an alternate on the Canadian squad that upset the United States at the 2002 Winter Games in Salt Lake City.
She started three games at the 2006 Games in Turin, Italy, including the final. She got into only one game at the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver then had two winning starts in Sochi, Russia in 2014 as Canada won its fourth straight women’s hockey gold.
"Each (gold medal) was very special," Labonte said. "I guess Turin was very special for me because I got to play in the round robin, the semifinal and the final game. So that’s like my special gold medal.
"Vancouver I was injured but still got to play a bit. Everyone sees the gold medals at the end. It’s great. But for us there’s so much more. It’s the journey to the gold medal. That’s what makes it so memorable."
Labonte also won two gold and five silver medals at women’s world championships, and helped the McGill Martlets to three Canadian university titles in five seasons. She also earned a master’s degree in sports psychology.
In 2013, she joined the Montreal Stars (now Canadiennes) and two years later was the CWHL goaltender of the year.
"Last week Les Canadiennes had their camp and I wasn’t there. It’s tough but that’s the decision I had to make and I’m happy with it," said Labonte.