“You don’t want to lose to a girl.”
Kim St-Pierre remembers opponents lobbing insults, using her presence in net to motivate each other and trying to get in her head.
She remembers the coach who posted a newspaper article about her in his dressing room so his boys could take turns slashing it with their sticks.
She remembers the parents who accused her of stealing a boy’s spot on her team.
But none of it stopped her. Despite being that girl — the only one in the Chateauguay minor hockey association at the time — she would not be shaken in her drive to be the best.
It was hard for St-Pierre at times, sure — as well as for her parents — but all the jealousy, malice and, undoubtedly, sexism also served as fodder for her aspirations.
She could’ve lashed out or quit, but St-Pierre wanted to prove them wrong and kept her sights locked on loftier goals than revenge.
“I was never trying to be the first one to do this or be the only girl,” said the three-time gold-medal-winning goaltender for Team Canada, who moved to the Montreal suburb, where there were no girls’ leagues, in Grade 4. “No. For me, it was just about being so competitive. I wanted to play at the highest level I could.”
But she didn’t do it alone. Growing up in Chateauguay, Que. — where Rogers Hometown Hockey makes a stop this week — her dad, Andre, a defenceman who was drafted by the New York Rangers in 1970, and her mom, Louise, a phys-ed teacher and triathlete, always had her back.
Andre even took up goaltending, learning everything he could about the position so he could help coach her.
She also had unwavering support from her teammates and coaches.
“They took good care of me and they gave me all the opportunities to play at the highest level,” said the 41-year-old St-Pierre, now retired. “I played mostly with all the same guys from my age and they were all like little brothers to me.”
With no professional women’s hockey players to idolize, St-Pierre bled the blue, blanc et rouge of the nearby Montreal Canadiens.
She wanted a career in high-level athletics, but, ironically, she never counted on hockey being part of the equation.
“My dream when I was younger was to go to the Olympics. I had said once on a local TV station, ‘I want to go to the Olympics in every sport but hockey,’ because hockey was not for girls back then,” recalled St-Pierre, who also excelled in soccer and softball. “So it’s funny that I was able to succeed in women’s hockey.”
Succeed is a massive understatement.
St-Pierre went on to star for the University of McGill, where she broke more barriers by becoming the first woman in U Sports history to win a men’s game. She then backstopped Canada to its first-ever gold medal in women’s hockey — and first of four straight — at the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City. She was named top goalie at the tournament after compiling a 1.25 goals-against average, 93.59 save percentage and two shutouts as Canada narrowly edged the U.S. 3–2 in the final.
St-Pierre won two more gold medals (2006 and 2010), five world championships — picking up top goalie honours in 2001 and 2004 — and became a member of the Triple Gold Club after capturing the now-defunct CWHL’s Clarkson Cup with the Montreal Stars in 2009 and 2011.
She retired from the national team in 2013 as its record holder in appearances by a goalie (89) and wins (64). St-Pierre also finished with a 1.17 GAA, .939 SVV% and 29 shutouts, the first two marks sitting second to just those attained by Sami Jo Small among Canadian goalies with five or more games under their belt — although St-Pierre played in 32 more.
Despite all the accolades, that first gold-medal game — when her girlhood dream came true — remains the sweetest.
“When you actually get to your first Olympic Games, it’s very crazy. Like the opening ceremonies that I used to watch on TV — now I was able to walk in the stadium when they would call Canada,” reflected St-Pierre. “And we had lost like eight games in a row in preparation against the U.S. team, so there was a lot of pressure, a lot of stress, but once you get there and you’re able to be the starting goalie for this final game against the U.S.A. in Salt Lake City, it was so amazing to win this game.”
With the gold medal around her neck, St-Pierre, who now lives in Montreal with her husband and two kids, returned to Chateauguay — where her parents still reside — for a celebration with a few thousand locals in the old arena.
While St-Pierre’s journey up the ranks of Chateauguay’s minor-hockey system wasn’t without its difficulties — with most of the animosity coming from other teams — she believes she always had the support of the hockey community.
“Even if I was a girl, they believed in me and they gave me the opportunities to get better,” said St-Pierre of the association she played in until she was 18.
And she’s trying to replicate this web of support in her second career with the non-profit organization BOKS, which helps schools introduce children to physical activity and tries to keep them active.
St-Pierre is often on the ground encouraging kids — especially young girls who too often drop out of sports — to find something they love, like she did with hockey, and to stick with it.
“When I go into schools, I say, ‘I thought I was an alien,’ because I couldn’t see any other girls playing hockey,” she said. “But I think what made a difference is the support of my parents — like, my mom and dad were always there supporting me and being there for me — and all my teammates, too.”