There’s a familiar name leading the scoring race as the Canadian Women’s Hockey League heads into All-Star Saturday.
It’s Marie-Philip Poulin.
The 25-year-old, who should be a household name by now, authored Canada’s game-winners in the gold medal finals at the past two Olympics. Last year’s CWHL MVP and top point-getter is averaging 1.71 points per game this season, with 15 goals and 21 assists in 21 games.
Ahead of the All-Star Game—which will feature a whole bunch of Olympic gold medallists, including Natalie Spooner and Brianne Jenner and Caroline Ouellette—Sportsnet caught up with Poulin. We talked about her clutch performances, her Les Canadiennes de Montreal, her childhood, and her role as Coach “Pou.”
Sportsnet: You’re consistently in the conversation as the best player in the world, and have been for a few years. What’s that like?
Poulin: Aaah. I get shy. Every time someone talks to me about it, I don’t know what to say, but it’s always an honour.
SN: That required some bragging. You didn’t do well.
MPP: No, I didn’t. [Laughs.]
SN: You have also been called the Sidney Crosby of women’s hockey. Do you like that nickname?
MPP: No, not quite. It’s a lot. I don’t think I can compare myself to him. I’m lucky to have people compare me to him but I don’t think that’s the case.
SN: How old were you when you realized you were really good at hockey?
MPP: Still wondering. [Laughs.]
SN: What? No.
MPP: Well, when I got invited to my first senior camp with Hockey Canada, around 16, 17. That’s when I was like, OK, maybe I have a chance if I keep working hard and keep following my idols there.
SN: Do you remember the first time you saw women’s hockey played at a high level?
MPP: It was the ’02 Olympics in Salt Lake City. I was 11, and I was watching it with my mom. It was such an unbelievable game—they were losing and then they came back and won. They were receiving their gold medals and I was wondering why they were all crying. I looked at my mom and she was crying as well. I thought, ‘What’s happening? This is supposed to be a happy moment!’ And my mom looked at me and she said, ‘You’ll know one day, if you keep working hard.’ Let me tell you, when I got my first gold medal in Vancouver [in 2010], when I was crying myself, I knew what she meant.
SN: Watching the Olympics in 2002, were you thinking, ‘That’ll be me one day’?
MPP: I think that’s when it really started growing in my head, the little spark, the dream, maybe one day you can represent your country.
SN: How old were you when you started playing hockey?
MPP: I was five. But I started figure skating when I was four years old. I did one year and switched to hockey. I have an older brother that was playing and I wanted to do what he was doing.
SN: Toe picks were not your thing.
MPP: No, not really. [Laughs.]
SN: Did you play a lot of shinny growing up?
MPP: When it was Christmastime, every time we had the chance, my brother and I would play outside. It’s one of my best memories: going to play outside, coming back to our house with red cheeks and sniffles. Sometimes when I have big games, stressful moments, I think about that moment, when I’m outside playing freely.
SN: What does the average day look like for you, as a pro hockey player?
MPP: I usually go work out in the morning. Sometimes we have a skill session with Hockey Canada. At night we have practice or just hang out. In the afternoon I either relax, have an event, or I give a practice at McGill or Dawson college. I help with Dawson college once a week and with McGill as well, once a week. I just go and either give a couple skills drills and get on the ice and help the coaches. I don’t skate as much there—I just push pucks.
SN: Are the players excited to see you?
MPP: I don’t know—I hope so. I’m always excited to see them.
SN: What do they call you?
MPP: Pou. Or coach.
SN: Les Canadiennes lost in the Clarkson Cup final last year to Calgary. Are you looking for revenge?
MPP: For sure. We had a tough loss in the final and I think this year we’re back together, we were really excited to get back to the season. Hopefully we’ll reach our goal this year.
SN: You won league MVP and top scorer last season. What are your goals this year?
MPP: To win the Clarkson Cup. I don’t look at the stats. Our team is like my second family—to be able to play with those girls that work all day and come play at night, I think it shows how passionate we are. We all play for each other. We want to win for each other.
SN: You have a knack for scoring huge goals, as we’ve seen at the last two Olympics. How come?
MPP: It’s a great question. I don’t know, to be honest. Sometimes I have to pinch myself to really know what happened.
SN: Is that gold medal final in Sochi still unbelievable to you? [Quick refresher: Canada trailed 2-0 until less than four minutes to go, then cut the lead to one goal. The Americans hit the post with an empty Canadian net, and then with less than a minute remaining, Poulin scored the game-tying goal. She scored the winner in OT, too.]
MPP: For sure. Every time I see videos, we see a recap, I see that puck hitting our post, I always think it’s gonna go in. It was, to be honest, a miracle. It was a game of women’s hockey that’s going to be in the books forever, for sure.
SN: Did you keep either of your Olympic-winning pucks?
SN: Where are they?
MPP: Great question. I don’t know. [Laughs.]
SN: Do you feel an expectation to score the winner at the next Olympics?
MPP: I don’t think that far ahead, to be honest. There’s always pressure when you play hockey for Canada, we have expectations to do well, we have expectations to win. We’ll see what’s gonna happen.
SN: You aren’t a captain at the All-Star Game. Didn’t you vote for yourself?
MPP: No. [Laughs]. I didn’t really do anything on social media either. I’m just looking forward to playing in that game with and against the best players in our league. It’s always a fun time.
The CWHL All-Star game is Saturday, Feb. 11 at Toronto’s Air Canada Centre. You can watch the game on Sportsnet at 3:30 p.m. ET.