BROSSARD, Que. — She’s the undisputed greatest women’s hockey player in the world, widely considered the greatest women’s hockey player of all time, a three-time Olympic and two-time world champion, a player dubbed “Captain Clutch” for her propensity for scoring tournament-winning goals, and now she’s a Montreal Canadien.
There’s no ambiguity as to why Canadiens owner Geoff Molson, executive vice president of hockey operations Jeff Gorton and general manager Kent Hughes were interested in hiring Marie-Philip Poulin as a player-development consultant. The decision to bring her on board was first explored with her two weeks prior to the Beijing Games this past winter, and it was formalized on Tuesday because when you have a chance to get the best, you do everything you can to capitalize on it — even if it means only benefiting part of the time.
Poulin, admittedly elated to be taking on this role, said at her introductory press conference she intends on playing at least four more years — in at least one more Olympics — before her priority shifts exclusively to development. For now, she’ll split her time between this job with the Canadiens and the one she mastered long ago as a player.
But don’t mistake that for a half-hearted commitment.
“It’s really an honour for me to be here and start this role,” Poulin said, and there’s little doubt she’ll treat it that way.
Molson has none.
“We think we hired the best person for the job,” he said. “It’s a step forward. The project for me is to improve the development of our players, and we have four people now on that team (with recent hirings of Poulin and development coach Adam Nicholas) when before, when I was speaking on Nov. 29 (upon hiring Gorton), we were only two. So, this is a step forward for the development of all our players.”
Poulin said that, for now, she’ll work exclusively with Canadiens prospects when she’s not focusing on her commitments as a player. She said, “I think becoming closer with them, getting to know them on the ice, off the ice and coming up with a plan of how to make them better and improve on the ice is going to be a challenge and very exciting,” and she shared her philosophy on what makes for winning hockey.
“The will, the grit and working as a team,” Poulin started. “I think those are all great things we can see watching the NHL. The grit is something that just steps up when playoffs start, and that’s something I truly value.”
Molson truly values the complete package the 31-year-old is bringing to the Canadiens.
“The most important thing for Jeff and Kent, who really are the two people who are going to be working most closely with Marie-Philip, is her quality as a hockey person,” he said. “She’s a winner, she knows how to win, and our players are young and they need to learn that as well, and I think that’s probably our biggest priority.
“But at the same time, we tick many boxes. Marie-Philip will be not only somebody who is very competent in player development, but also has a passion for analytics and also is a woman. And having all three in our organization is a big win for us.”
We think it will be, too, but wanted to speak to some people who know Poulin best to tell us why.
Earlier in the day, we touched base with former and current teammates — all of them Olympic and world champions — who have experienced her greatness in a way the players she’ll be working with can only hope to experience. These teammates, some of whom have played with Poulin for the better part of two decades, all agree the Canadiens are going to massively benefit from her presence alone, and they’re all in consensus she’s a perfect fit for the role she’s been assigned.
On what, aside from her talent, makes Poulin uniquely qualified for the job…
How long do you have? Honestly, I think the best part about Pou is how much she cares about other people. She will never make it about her. She has an ability to get the best out of people because she creates such a safe and loving environment for them. And, honestly, I don’t see that changing even in her new role. I don’t see that changing by any means; she’s going to get the best out of people because she’s going to care about them and want them to be better as individuals.
I think, to me, it’s just what a humble, kind human being she is. And, with the amount of success she had from a very young age, it could’ve gone to her head but never did with her. I think whenever she’s asked about any personal success, she always refers to the people that she has around her and to the team. She just has a real team-first mentality and is extremely humble and kind and caring. She’s a really good person.
She’s not only the greatest because of her physical ability, but also because of how smart of a player she is. And I just think about how good of a two-way player she is. She plays d-zone but scores the big goals and is so great under pressure, so I just think she has so much to bring to that organization. For the guys to be able to see — I hope they all respect her already and how dedicated she is and how hard-working — how much she has to offer, she’s got so much wisdom. She’s been around Team Canada for so long, I think she’s probably played more years than she hasn’t. I think that’s why everyone is saying she’ll be great. I can’t wait to see what she brings to some of those players.
When I think of Mare, she’s just a winner in really every sense of the word. No matter what she does, whether it’s on or off the ice, she just attacks every single day with this winning mentality and this pursuit of excellence. I’m fortunate enough that I get to see her almost every day, and she just has this pursuit of excellence that I think obviously has helped our team a great deal over the years. But to be brought to an organization like the Canadiens, especially after the year they’ve had, I think she’ll be a huge part of changing things.
She’s an incredible person. She’s so well-qualified and this is so well-deserved. Why I think she’s going to add so much value to the organization is because she’s so talented, so successful, but she’s so dedicated. She’s such a hard worker, she’s down to earth, she’s humble and respected, and I think throughout her entire career she’s been so dedicated to making the people around her better. Through every success that she’s had she’s always been about elevating the people around her, so in a role like this — along with knowing the game, being so bright and so ambitious — you know she’s going to be incredibly dedicated to putting in the work to make sure her value will be long-lasting. It’s really amazing news. Just thrilled for her. Great decision by the Montreal organization.
On admirable qualities Poulin possesses…
I think, very similar to Sidney Crosby, Pou also does it in a way that commands respect and doesn’t portray arrogance. You look at her resume and it would be easy for anybody who’s been that successful to just kind of coast throughout the rest of their career, but I truthfully believe her best years are still to come. You look at the way she played this year at the Olympics — not to say she didn’t play well in 2018, but it was a whole new level — and her game continues to go to new levels. Nothing surprises us anymore because there’s nothing she can’t do.
All the goals she scored — they’re special to her only because they allowed the team to be successful.
I think I would say she’s a little more reserved. She’s not going to be in your face, hooting and hollering, yelling and all that. She’s just more reserved. But she’s so passionate. In a hockey environment, her passion and personality really shine through because she loves it. She really does lead with her heart. Once she does speak up, you know it’s important and you’re going to listen.
We can all learn from Marie-Philip Poulin in terms of her composure. If you’ve spoken to her at any point, she always deflects attention or credit and there’s no one in hockey that’s been more of a clutch performer than she has, but any time that she’s asked about her individual accomplishments she deflects immediately to the team and people she’s surrounded by. I think that’s something for all of us to admire and learn from in terms of how we treat the people around us and how we want to carry ourselves with composure and being grounded.
On transferring greatness to others…
I think what became very evident for me as one of her teammates and one of the older players on the team is as we got older and started playing with younger players, and she was often put on a line with those younger players, what was really cool to see was her mentoring those younger players. With her resume and the way she plays the game and the level of skill that she has, she’s one of those players that obviously commands respect. When she tries to teach you something, those younger players would look at her with big, round eyes, probably in their heads thinking this is Marie-Philip Poulin teaching me something and I better listen up. For me, that was definitely something that became very evident later on in our careers.
She’s a collaborator on the ice. She’s a player that likes to talk about the game. She always goes back to the bench and talks about plays. I saw that teaching component.
It’s probably going to be a bit of transition, and I think it would be for any player to come over into that role and figure out how to articulate it and how to teach it. But at the same time, she runs her hockey school and works with young kids, and you have to think these guys are also at the top of their games and willing to try anything to be better. I think back to when I’m learning new skills and, at first, it’s not great. But you stick with it.
She’s going to stick this out. She has so much wisdom and skill, I’m sure it’ll click with the guys. She’s personable and has shown through her leadership she can really reach people and I think it’ll just be the same.
I think that because she’s always been so driven to be successful, she’ll master this like everything else. She’s never been about being satisfied. She’s always been about finding a way. To teach people and elevate them — I think that’s what she’s been doing her whole career, is to help people be successful.
On what Poulin might take from this experience as an active player…
I think it is a two-way street when you get a pretty cool job like that. She’s going to also be able to learn and grow as a player, and I think she’s going to put in the same competitiveness that she puts into her hockey. She’s going to want to make these guys feel that and run with it and want to get better every day just as much as she does.
I think it’s such a unique opportunity. We’ve all been playing so long that we view the game in such a way unique to playing. When you take your player hat off a little bit and put yourself in a different role, it actually does help your game. So, I’m really excited for her to be able to evaluate players and help with their development because she’s going to bring so much, but she’s also going to pick up so many things that help her game.
When I did panel broadcast work, it really helped me as a player to step back and think about things from a different perspective. I can’t wait to see the impact that not only she has on the Canadiens, but the impact that they have on her and her game.
On how men will respond to Poulin…
I think that women have prominent roles in the game, whether it’s playing or player development or management, and I think that people are starting to recognize that they’re great hockey minds and great hockey minds first. I believe Emily Castonguay said it, when she was hired by the Vancouver Canucks, that she walks into the room and is a hockey mind. I think more and more you’re starting to see that recognition and respect, and it’s just having an understanding of the game played at an extremely high pace and high level. I think of Marie-Philip Poulin, and I think of her as a real student of the game. That’s also what makes her special is her ambition to learn and get better. To see her move into the position in player development is almost a perfect position for her because she’s a student of the game. I think that she’s obviously highly respected in her skill and her level of play and her knowledge, and all it would take is 10 seconds on the ice with her to realize the speed at which she plays the game and how you could take a lot from watching and learning from her.
If it’s breaking down video, all it’s going to take is a minute or two for them to realize what they can learn from her. Honestly, she’s a very intelligent hockey mind.
We train with a lot of them, so we know a lot of them. There is that mutual respect because they see us day-in, day-out doing the exact same thing they’re doing whereas the general public doesn’t.
She’s also the greatest player in our sport. She’s so smart. They’re going to be blown away.
On why it might work in Montreal…
I just think, for her, there’s no stage that’s too big for her to be calm, to be composed and deliver and still be so humble. This is just not any hockey player or person accepting a role; this is the best player in the game who has a history of just having the highest standard of excellence, and she’s coming into an organization that has expectations and a knowledgeable fan base that wants that same level of excellence.
Again, I think the bigger the situation or moment, the stronger her performance seems to be, and I think it’ll be no different for her in this role.