When Caroline Ouellette’s name was announced to step out on the red carpet, she didn’t come out right away. She stayed at the entrance and waited for Julie Chu’s name. Chu was holding their daughter Liv, and she wanted to share the moment with her.
“[It’s] very special,” Ouellette said about having this moment with her daughter. “Alyssa Sherrard pointed out that she was with us when we won so she needed to come back out. It’s amazing. There are no words to describe how great it feels.”
Ouellette was pregnant with Liv when Montreal won the Clarkson Cup this past March.
“She was sleeping!” said Noémie Marin about Liv. “I told Caro ‘she’s sleeping while we’re unveiling the banner’ and she was like, ‘yeah, she doesn’t care’.”
Les Canadiennes unveiled banners from their four Clarkson Cup championships on Sunday afternoon before their game against the Toronto Furies. Marin and Ouellette were the only members of all four teams as players.
All captains and alternates from those teams were on hand, as were all members of last year’s team except Marie-Philip Poulin and Lauriane Rougeau who are with Team Canada preparing for the Olympic Games.
Ouellette, Chu, and Liv were joined on the red carpet by Lisa-Marie Breton-Lebreux, Kelly Sudia, and Nathalie Déry, as well as Charline Labonté, Emilie Bocchia, and Sherrard from last year's team. They were joined by Patrick Rankine who coached the first three championship teams. Cathy Chartrand, Ann-Sophie Bettez, and Marin were past alternates on Cup-winning teams and are still part of the team.
It was the first time that the team unveiled championship banners, and it was an opportunity to look back at the history of the organization. On top of all the alumni taking part in the ceremony, there were many alumni in the stands watching.
“This organization holds such a special place in my heart,” said Chu. “They are my family up in Montreal, they are people I care about and have supported me along the way and help to celebrate those great moments too.”
“I felt really privileged to be with such a great lineup on the red carpet,” said Breton-Lebreux, who along with Sudia is now an assistant coach with the team. “We have great memories and those are my friends and I was very, very, very happy and proud to share that moment with them.”
Breton-Lebreux was the general manager and captain when the team started 11 years ago and was part of all four teams as well. Three as captain, and the latest as an assistant coach. She said just seeing the old jerseys brought a wave of memories back. She was one of the players responsible for getting the current edition of the CWHL off the ground.
“We designed the M, it was not the greatest design but we came up with the original star that stayed all along in the logo and it was special,” she said.
“It makes me very proud,” Ouellette said. “We’ve been very fortunate to be part of a great organization that has been so successful and I’ve loved every minute that I’ve played for this team and it’s due to the leadership we’ve had from the start. Patrick Rankine, Nathalie Déry, Lisa-Marie... she did so much for this team, for this league.”
“I think of stopping coaching or doing something else with my life but it never stops,” Breton-Lebreux said noting the quick growth over the last few years. “There’s always something new... ‘Well, I guess let’s go to China! Why not!’ I can’t leave when it’s still getting better.”
The adjustment to retirement has settled in for Breton-Lebreux who could look over and see Sami Jo Small - one of the several other players responsible for getting the league off the ground - sitting as the backup for Toronto.
In fact, last weekend when the teams were in Toronto, Small got into a game against Montreal. It was then that current Montreal coach Dany Brunet jokingly asked Breton-Lebreux if she wanted to dress as well.
Another former Canadienne is currently making that adjustment.
“You love the game days. But part of being an elite athlete is that you need to love the training and everything that goes into it,” said Chu, who stepped away for this season. “But just with the time and commitment at Concordia University I just wasn’t able to do it all. In fairness to my teammates and balance of my life it made sense to step away as a player and become more of a fan.”
Chu, currently in her third season as head coach at Concordia (and second without the interim tag), says that the most recent championship sticks out.
“All of them are really special for different reasons but last year... One, it was my last opportunity but it was also because of the year before we lost to the same team,” she said. “What was really fun was that our team, even though we’re older, we’re still learning from mistakes and the year before they could have beat us anyway, but we made it easier for them because we were scared to play. When you play scared you end up with that 8 to... whatever... score. I try and block it out.”
“That was our focus for last year was to make sure that we would have no regrets and play hard and that’s what I’m most proud of.”
The ceremony did have an issue, including the first banner not falling when it was supposed to. Ironically, Montreal's first championship in 2008-09 was against a Minnesota Whitecaps team that Chu was playing for at the time.
“They didn’t know but I came in late last night while Liv was sleeping for an hour and glued it shut to make sure they could never open that one,” Chu joked.
She was later cleared of any wrongdoing when arena staff climbed a ladder during the intermission to get it unwrapped.
In addition to 08-09 and last year, the other banners unveiled were for 2010-11 and 2011-12. Those teams remain the only back-to-back Clarkson Cup champions.