Cassie Campbell-Pascall talks Hockey Day, Olympics, Bob Cole

Hockey Day in Canada journeys to Corner Brook, Newfoundland, taking place on January 20th.

You can’t properly celebrate Canada’s game without mentioning Cassie Campbell-Pascall, one of the nation’s most accomplished hockey heroes. The women’s hockey legend captained Team Canada to two Olympic gold medals (she also won silver with Team Canada in 1998), and is now an important voice of the game across the nation as part of Sportsnet’s Hockey Night in Canada broadcast team.

As a Scotiabank ambassador alongside NHL alumni Lanny McDonald, Darcy Tucker, Wendel Clark and Mark Napier, Campbell-Pascall also helps promote the game each year during Hockey Day in Canada. This year, Sportsnet and Scotiabank are in Corner Brook, N.L., to celebrate the game.

“I’m pretty fortunate. I’m used to being in NHL arenas across the country and for me it kind of brings me back to the grassroots and what hockey really is about,” Campbell-Pascall told Sportsnet last week.

“I’m always impressed with the number of volunteers and people who tell their stories and give back to the game and coach and try and make it better for our kids. And that’s what I get out of it, just that reminder of what hockey really is about, especially at the minor level.”

We spoke to Campbell-Pascall about her fondest memories of Newfoundland, her Olympic teammates, and her friendship with fellow hockey commentator Bob Cole. She also shared with us her scouting report as we look forward to the Olympic Women’s hockey tournament in Pyeongchang, which she’ll be calling for CBC next month.

Who were some of your own hockey heroes growing up?
When I grew up, we didn’t really know any female players competing until I was 16 years old and I finally got a chance to meet Geraldine Heaney and Angela James and Sue Scherer. But my favourite players growing up, like Paul Coffey, were mostly NHL players.

When I would play street hockey I was often put in net, so the goalie I pretended to be was Dan Bouchard, who played for the Quebec Nordiques. I don’t quite know why I pretended to be him — I think I had his hockey card and I liked his helmet because it was a little bit different than everyone else’s. But yeah, it was mostly male players as that’s who I had an opportunity to watch. Once I got the chance to meet some of the female players that played on Team Canada before me, they sort of instantaneously became my role models after that.

As a role model for girls everywhere, what is one of the biggest lessons you like to teach on the ice — whether during Hockey Day clinics, or at home in Calgary?
Honestly, it’s about having fun. We obviously do drills and we’re teaching them shooting and the basics of skating and all those types of things. But I think generally you want the kids to just go out there and have fun.

For me, it’s about developing a passion for the game in these kids that, regardless of what level they make it in the game, they’re going to always want to get back to the game because they love it.

As you’re looking ahead to the 2018 Olympic Games in Pyeongchang, what stands out to you about Canada’s women’s hockey team?
Young. This is the first time that they haven’t had a leader — someone who wore an A or C — from the previous Olympics. It’s a young team, they’ve completely transitioned; no one from my generation is there anymore. A lot of speed, they’re very skilled. They won five of the six games against Team USA this year, but they lost to them when it counted most at the Four Nations Cup.

It’s still a close rivalry between USA and Canada. They’re going for five Olympic gold medals in a row in ice hockey and that’s never been done before — male or female. So they have an opportunity to accomplish something big. I know they’re focused on just the one Olympics and they’re not looking at it as five in a row but that would be quite an accomplishment and something that’s never been done.

Celebrating heroes of the game, Sportsnet and Scotiabank unite to bring a 4-day hockey festival to Swift Current, Sask., and a 12-hour national NHL broadcast to Canadian fans coast-to-coast on Feb. 9.

Who are some of the players that you think could take on that kind of leadership role?
It hasn’t been announced yet, but my guess is Marie-Philip Poulin will be the captain. She’s the best non-captain we’ve ever seen play for Team Canada, in my opinion. The leadership, I think, is in great hands. She’s a remarkable young woman and a terrific player.

Natalie Spooner is another name that, she’s brought great leadership, and Meghan Agosta, too. Brigette Lacquette is going to be the first First Nations woman to ever make the Canadian women’s Olympic hockey team. There are so many amazing stories and so much young talent. Meaghan Mikkelson is playing as the oldest player and she has a young son. There are some tremendous stories. There’s a lot of leadership on this team and it’s going to be tough sledding for sure — I think Finland can do some damage — but they’re prepared.

What do you think might be one of Team Canada’s biggest strengths?
I think having [goaltender] Shannon Szabados back. She went and played men’s hockey after the last Olympic cycle and was sort of unsure if she was going to come back or not. She decided to come back and continue to play, and I think she’s the only goaltender to ever play and start in two gold medal-winning Olympic games. She just kind of has this edge about her, this aura of confidence and she’s a big-game player. I think having her back in the lineup has been really key, and back playing women’s hockey this year has been key.

What are some of the biggest differences we’ll see on the U.S. national women’s team this year, as opposed to four years ago in Sochi?
They lost some key veterans. Obviously their captain, Julie Chu, is no longer there. I think they have an influx of young players that are competing in their first-ever Olympics and at the same time they have a bunch of veterans that were part of Sochi and part of that terrible loss. They’re a very skilled team and they’ve won the last three world championships and seven of the last eight world championships. So they’re a tough rival and they just kind of haven’t found a way to win a gold medal except for 20 years ago in 1998. I know that’s high on their radar and they’re going to be a tough test for Canada for sure.
What are your first impressions as you look ahead to the men’s tournament without NHLers for the first time since 1994?
I think for people in my generation, this is all we knew — the non-NHLers going. We had an opportunity to see Paul Kariya come and play and Corey Hirsch come and play before they jumped into the [NHL] ranks. I think we’ve kind of forgotten, that was the grassroots of men’s Olympic hockey — a full-time [national] team. They trained in Calgary and that’s the way it was. I think there’s going to be some amazing stories coming out of this.

A year ago, Wojtek Wolski was out of the NHL and he was playing overseas and had a broken neck. And [now] there he is, on the men’s Olympic team.

Mason Raymond, he had a terrible back injury and struggled and couldn’t really find a place in the NHL and now he’s going to the Olympic Games. I think people are going to find themselves surprised that when they turn on the TV and see a Canadian hockey jersey, whether it’s men’s or women’s, they’re going to cheer and they’re going to be excited and they’re going to rally around the team. And it’s up to us as broadcasters to make sure we tell the story correctly.
Do you have a favourite hockey memory tied to Newfoundland?
It was after the 2002 Olympics…. A group of people in Newfoundland raised money to have the national women’s team come tour the province. Not every player could make it but the majority of us did…. We traveled to five or six different places — Gander, Grand Falls, I can’t remember all the small towns we went to. We basically would play a young girls’ team, play shinny, then we would play the top boys team in the area. It was a sold-out crowd. Then we went to the local legion where they’d throw a part for us. Then we’d get on the bus and travel to the next city and do it all over again — school visits, basically promoting the game across the province across Newfoundland. I just remember it being so friendly, so fun, and I think it helped to promote women’s hockey in the province.

What are some of your other favourite Newfoundland stories?
I’ve been to St. John’s several times for different events. My dad went to Memorial University, so he has good friends there. Any time I’m there in Newfoundland, I give Bob Cole a call or text. Every once in a while he’ll come out to say hello, come out for a beer or whatever. I know he’s so proud to be from there. It’s a fun place to be.
Have you ever picked Bob’s brain about broadcasting?
No, not really. I got a chance to work with him my second day when I got thrown into colour, and there I was working with Bob Cole on Hockey Night in Canada. But no, I ask Bob about Bob. His stories about calling this game, calling that game. I was always on him about, “You need to a write a book!” and finally he did. I think one of the greatest honours I’ve ever received is that my name is in his book…. He and I kind of have a special relationship — he helped me that first night going up to the booth and I’ll never forget it.

He’s a real treasure in our country, in my opinion, and he needs to probably be celebrated a little bit more than he is. I’m a huge fan.

So much of Hockey Day is centred around the importance of teammates. How important are those bonds you share from your playing days?
You have friends for life. We’re all busy, but you truly have friends for life and you pick up right where you left off, even if you haven’t seen each other for a while. You know every thing about each other. I mean, we basically lived together for 10-plus years. So everyone knows your weaknesses and yet they don’t hold it against you. Everyone just, they’re just there for you. It’s important.
Now you’ve got another set of teammates with your Hockey Day tradition.
We live in different places and don’t always get to see each other, but when we’re together, we’re teammates.

It’s there. It’s nice, now that you’re not an athlete, you miss the teammate aspect. So I think being part of this new team, it’s important for our mentalities and the way we live our life so it’s been a nice ride for sure.

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