The name Lauriane Rougeau is probably one you've heard before. She won gold with Team Canada in Sochi and was an alternate captain at the most recent World Championships. She also plays defence, and because of that you probably don't know much about her.
Defenders have always been under-appreciated aspects of Team Canada in the women's game. They don't really shine in games Canada wins by a touchdown, and often they are in the shadow of whatever goaltender is winning games or whichever forward is scoring goals.
A quick glance at Team Canada's longest-serving defenders shows Hockey Hall of Famer Geraldine Heaney, followed by Therese Brisson, Colleen Sostorics, Becky Kellar and Cheryl Pounder. Not exactly household names.
It's why it surprised me when I found out that Rougeau was the third-youngest defender at the Sochi Olympics. It feels like she has been around longer. Rougeau grew up in Montreal's West Island and is an alumna of the great Dawson College program. (This is a refrain you will hear often throughout our profiles.) She played hockey with the boys, like many of her teammates for most of her childhood and shared a youth coach, Dan D'Astoli, with Marc-Edouard Vlasic of the San Jose Sharks. He heaps a lot of praise on Rougeau:
"I coached for a long time. When someone asks me about defence, I say one of the best defencemen I ever had was a girl, the other one was Marc Vlasic," D’Astoli said.
"Lauriane was a girl that developed with the boys. In those days not too many girls played AA, let alone bantam AA." D’Astoli coached Rougeau for two years at peewee and then one year at bantam, when she was about 14.
He had no qualms about including Rougeau on his bantam boy’s team, a level where there is body checking. At the time, he was hesitant to cut a player he believed could one day be a future gold medalist.
"At that time you saw that she was that good. Positionally, she didn’t have the strength of the boys, but they still couldn’t beat her because she was just very solid," he recalled.
After Dawson College, Rougeau went to play in the NCAA with the Cornell Big Red, an Ivy League school. She had 114 points in 133 games and was a pretty good +147.
She also scored this beauty which only put her team into the NCAA Semi-Finals in triple overtime. No big deal.
She was Les Canadiennes de Montreal's first-round pick in 2013, but she spent the entire season with Team Canada in preparation for the Sochi Olympics. Last year, she played 20 of the 24 games with the Stars, netting two goals and seven assists. She is the anchor of Les Canadiennes' defence, a team that really played their top defencemen a lot, relying on Rougeau, Cathy Chartrand and, late in the year, Julie Chu.
Rougeau is actually in her second stint with the team — like Marie-Philip Poulin and others — as she played for the team while in CEGEP before going to the NCAA. Before playing for Dawson, she was a member of another great CEGEP program in St. Jerome. Her idol growing up was current teammate at the club and National level - Caroline Ouellette.
With Catherine Ward's future up in the air as well as the loss of two players on defence from last season, Rougeau will be relied upon once again to lead Les Canadiennes' blueline. That might mean she won't get the attention of Charline Labonté or Ouellette, but her value to Les Canadiennes is just as important.