The Canadian Olympians set a new record for medals at the 2018 Olympic Winter Games and are set up for even more success in Beijing in four years. Of the 225 Canadian athletes who competed in South Korea, most would be thrilled to return home with a silver medal.
Unless you’re a Canadian women’s hockey player.
After a heartbreaking shootout loss in the gold medal game to the rival Americans, I was curious what the Canadian players’ relationship would be to a medal that is the envy of the world but not the standard in Canada. And who better to ask than the captain of the team and the best player in the world: Marie-Philip Poulin.
While spending some well-deserved down time at the P&G Family House in Pyeongchang, Canada’s captain told me why these Olympics were disappointing on the ice but can be viewed as a success off the ice, and how the passion of Canadians will fuel this team to even greater heights in the future.
Sportsnet: How would you describe this Olympic experience?
Marie-Philip Poulin: I mean really honouring any time you have a chance to put on that jersey, that’s the way you feel because you take a lot of pride in training all year long for that moment. It is a great group of leaders, great group of young ones coming up.
SN: As the captain, what did you say to the team after the gold medal game?
Poulin: Obviously how proud I was of this team. I think this group is very special. We created a very special bond throughout the year, working so hard, giving everything we had. Obviously, it wasn’t the result we wanted but when you take a step back and realize what we did as a team, I told them just how proud I was. As a group, we grew so much. We were such a tight team and we wanted the best for each other.
SN: You scored some big goals. How did you feel about your personal performance?
Poulin: It was okay. You always want more and you always want to push your limit. On a personal level, I was lucky enough to play with two amazing teammates in Meghan Agosta and Mélodie Daoust. You want to keep raising your bar and that’s what we did as a group, but obviously we came up short.
SN: It has always been Canada versus USA for the gold. Are the other nations getting any closer?
Poulin: I think they are. Women’s hockey is just growing. You can tell from just eight years ago when I was in Vancouver for my first Olympics, the scores were pretty big. And now watching how much the overall hockey grew and got faster and [to] see the skills of all those athletes out there, it’s amazing to be a part of that. As a group, not only Canada and the U.S. but the other countries around have raised the bar in growing the sport.
SN: With the absence of NHL players did you feel the spotlight shifted to the women’s tournament being more anticipated and scrutinized as the men’s?
Poulin: Yes, we felt it. From Canada playing hockey we know there is pressure and expectations. But knowing we had Canada behind us, I think that made us raise our bar throughout the tournament and the gold medal game. You want to make Canada proud. Hopefully we did.
SN: One of the most talked about plays was your collision with Brianna Decker in the gold medal game. What was going through your mind on the play?
Poulin: It was a two [versus] one. I was trying to backcheck as fast as I can. I was full of momentum and unfortunately we collided. I’m not the type of person that wants to injure anyone. I felt pretty bad. It’s part of hockey and I was giving my all.
SN: Do you think body checking should be allowed for women playing hockey, the way it is for the men?
Poulin: Personally, I don’t think so. I think it would take away [from how] the game is played. The skill and how we see the game and our vision, I think it would take away from that. Obviously, it gets pretty physical around the boards — that’s allowed but not open hits. We stay to our game. I think that’s what creates our game and makes it faster and even better.
SN: Would the men’s game benefit from using the women’s rule book?
Poulin: I think it’s always exciting to see plays being made and see the creativity from the players. It could be awesome to see.
SN: Both games versus the Americans were full of penalties. Did that impact the gold medal game?
Poulin: It is pretty hard because it started with four calls against us right away. I think it was the inconsistency of the calls. You never know what’s going to get called. You think if it happens one way it’s going to happen the other way. It takes away from the rhythm of the game. When you’re playing your best, it’s hard when a couple calls are made. It’s part of the game and we’re aware of that. When you prepare for the Olympics you prepare for the distractions and we know that refs’ calls, we can’t control.
SN: What is it like to experience a shootout in the Olympics?
Poulin: Obviously really stressfully. Nobody wanted it to finish in a shootout. Nobody wanted to lose. It really hurt. You work really hard all throughout the year. It came down to that and it’s going to go one way or the other. So, it’s just the way it happens. Jocelyne Lamoureux made an unbelievable goal.
SN: Should a big tournament like the Olympics be decided with a shootout?
Poulin: I don’t think it should be decided in a shootout. I think it should be sudden death until there is a goal. It’s part of the game. We were aware of that. We practiced that all year throughout the process. Hockey is a team sport and you want to win as a team. And when it comes down to a breakaway it’s a tough one.
SN: Scott Moir was legendary on Twitter getting after the refs during the gold medal game and handing out beers. What’s it like to see the level of investment in supporting your team by other athletes?
Poulin: It feels amazing. We are family. You see red and you know you’re part of a family. It is amazing to be a part of that. When you see athletes coming and supporting you it’s quite amazing and we do the same for them. It shows how much we push each other and we want each other’s success.
SN: I have a friend who is a teacher and they assigned their civics class a homework assignment to watch your gold medal game. What’s it like to inspire the next generation of Canadians?
Poulin: That’s quite awesome to hear, to be honest. When you have the chance to spark [a] kid’s dream, you take that with pride. That’s what we want to do as a team. Hopefully we can be role models for them. I mean, that’s quite the homework. I would have loved to have that homework as a kid. Just for them to dream for the stars and just never give up, that’s what I want them to take away.
SN: Brigette Lacquette was the first First Nations woman on the national team. Haley Irwin almost didn’t make the team and had a huge tournament. Can they inspire in different ways?
Poulin: It just shows how we all bring something to this team. Having Brigette on this team will inspire an entire community. Having Haley on this team will show not to ever give up on your dreams, and she was such a veteran presence. It was a mix of veterans and first timers and I’m really proud of this team.
SN: What is the one thing you want Canadians to know about these games?
Poulin: That I’m still so honoured. I just want to say a big thank you to all the fans for all the support. We felt the energy all the way over here in South Korea.