For the last three years, Karell Emard has been in the NCAA. But, unlike some of her fellow draft class, like Marie-Philip Poulin at Boston University, or Leslie Oles and Katia Clement-Heydra at McGill, she wasn't there playing. She was an assistant coach at Colgate University.
Emard did play in the NCAA, too. She played for the St. Lawrence Saints where she was a captain for two years, won a conference championship, and made the NCAA championship in four of her five seasons. She recorded 106 points in 138 games as a forward, although she will likely play defence for Les Canadiennes de Montreal this season.
"When I graduated, I applied to get a job thinking I wasn’t going to get [it], but I told myself if I were to get a coaching job in the NCAA, I would have to take it," Emard said.
It was late in the summer and she had not yet heard back, but she had a back-up plan. She was going to look for an apartment with former CEGEP teammate (and current Canadiennes teammate) Ann-Sophie Bettez and play for the Montreal Stars.
Then, she heard back that she did, indeed, get the coaching job. She was officially announced as an assistant coach three weeks before Colgate's first game of the season.
Despite moving into coaching immediately after playing, she never considered herself retired.
"I kept missing the sting," Emard said. "I hadn’t made the decision that I was done, putting up my skates and saying 'I’m over this stage of my life.' So after three years of coaching, I was loving what I was doing, the girls I was coaching ... I just needed a change. Coming back felt like it was the right thing."
Emard had decided to come back to Montreal, but wasn't immediately set on joining Les Canadiennes.
"I was planning on coming back and not playing, then my best friend [Poulin] was saying 'I’m coming back too, when is the next time we’ll ever be able to play together?'"
She started thinking about it. She had played for the NWHL's Montreal Axion — the predecessor the Stars and now Les Canadiennes — while she was in CEGEP as a reserve player, so she had experience with players like Caroline Ouellette. She also had ties to Bettez and Emmanuelle Blais from Dawson College and knew others on the team as well.
"I said to myself, 'this is a good deal. Why would I not try out?' I was nervous, tried out, I felt like I was okay and I made the team. I feel pretty grateful for the opportunity."
Les Canadiennes' general manager Meg Hewings mentioned Emard's versatility when she was drafted in the third round of this summer's player entry draft. With four rostered blueliners leaving the team, Emard would likely play defence. Even though it's a different position than what she is used to, the on-ice chemistry hasn't gone away.
"I had a couple of shifts where Ann-So [Bettez] was playing up front," she said, adding that they were linemates for two years. "We came back to the bench and I was like ‘I see you everywhere’ and she’s like, 'I know.' The connection might be back, I don’t know what it is, I just know where she’s going to be everywhere, every time."
"It’s such a great team, they are all such great players," Emard said. "They all know where to be, they know what to do so I just put it on their tape and they do whatever they need to be doing."