There are plenty of home videos in the Masse family collection featuring the three kids — Daniel, Kylie and Natalie — bundled up, playing shinny on the rink their dad made every winter on the family’s side lot in LaSalle, Ont.
“We were out there all the time,” Kylie says. “I remember every night my dad would be outside flooding it for it to freeze overnight. He did a lot of work on that rink, and we were so lucky to have it. A lot of the neighbourhood kids would come over to play, too.”
Hockey was huge in the Masse family. Saturday nights were spent watching the Toronto Maple Leafs on Hockey Night in Canada. Weekend days were spent in the old LaSalle barn, with all three kids playing for local teams. Kylie, the middle child, played house league hockey until she was 12.
That’s when she made a decision that has panned out famously: Masse stopped playing organized hockey in the winter and soccer in the summers to focus her efforts on swimming, year-round.
“Sadly, it meant my hockey career was done,” says Masse.
But it’s not all that sad, really, because she’s this country’s first-ever female world champion in swimming.
The 24-year-old backstroke specialist is the reigning and back-to-back world title holder at 100 metres, a race that comes down to blinks of an eye — blinks that often see her get to the wall just before her competitors.
LaSalle has produced a small handful of elite hockey players, too, and this weekend the town just south of Windsor that produced this country’s first swimming world champion will be the site of a Rogers Hometown Hockey stop. The rink is on one side of town, and the tiny pool where Masse got her start, swimming in the summers with the LaSalle Lizards, is on the other.
Though her hockey career was short-lived, from age six to 12, and details may be a little hazy — Masse isn’t sure what position she played: “I think forward, but maybe defense?” — there is no doubt in her mind that hockey helped her in the water.
“For sure. I think any athletic experiences develop the foundation of agility and skills,” she says. “There are skills — like strength and power — that you’d develop over time in one sport that would help in another sport as well.
“For those years I was playing soccer, hockey and swimming — I really liked doing them all. I liked being active.”
What tipped the balance with swimming was all the kids her age in the pool.
“There were a bunch of new friends, and it was fun going to practices,” she says.
These days, she’s practising eight or nine times a week in the pool, in addition to three gym workouts. It’s her swimming schedule that’s keeping Masse from being at home in LaSalle when Hometown Hockey hits, but her family will be well-represented.
“My mom’s really excited about it. She’s been sending me pictures to post on social media,” Masse says. “I think it’s going to be so awesome for the town.”
Masse does get home to LaSalle the odd weekend during the swimming season, but spends the bulk of her time at home at the end of August, during the off-season.
“It’s fun to be able to go to the grocery store, or anywhere around town, and run into people that you know,” she says.
This summer when she gets back, it’ll be after her second appearance at the Olympic Games, where she’ll look to add to the bronze medal she earned in 100-metre backstroke four years ago in Rio de Janeiro.
When she thinks back to her days growing up in LaSalle, it’s not only that tiny pool she thinks of.
“I have so many memories of playing on that rink at my parents’ on their side lot,” she says. “Hockey was a big part of my childhood.”