When Mélodie Daoust first got word that she would be joining TVA Sports as their newest NHL analyst, one of her first phone calls was to Danièle Sauvageau.
“I called her just to thank her for the path that she forged for us because for this to be possible, for us to be on TV as a woman, it’s in part because of her,” Daoust said. “She has also tried to be in this world but unfortunately at that time, women weren’t welcome despite all the knowledge that she had. She was very proud of me and I appreciated that, but I wanted her to know at what point her work allowed women to have access and to dream of being on TV one day.”
Sauvageau was an analyst on Radio-Canada’s French broadcast of Hockey Night in Canada, and has continued in that role on RDS for women’s games but despite being the first woman to be behind the bench in the QMJHL, her career never progressed in the men’s game.
Women have gotten analyst roles in the United States, but in Canada it is still rare. Only Cassie Campbell-Pascall currently holds a similar role to the one that Daoust will have for NHL games. When the news broke of Daoust getting the job, Campbell-Pascall sent her a text message and even some tips before she goes on the air.
Daoust, the 2018 Olympic MVP, was approached by TVA Sports for the job, and while it was something she always wanted to do, she didn’t expect it to happen during her playing career.
“It surprised me a bit because I’m not already in the media world. It has always been something I saw myself doing after my career,” she said. “When they offered it to me, I had my eyes full of stars and I was very happy to have access to that role and I take it as a challenge.”
Besides playing with the PWHPA and Team Canada, Daoust also coaches at the University of Montreal, and feels that her knowledge and vision on the ice will help her bring a unique perspective to viewers.
“My strength on the ice is my vision of the play. I really believe that’s why I am able to do this. I will be able to analyze the game as it is happening,” she said. “When I am on the ice, I can even see the play that will happen a second before it does because I study my game, I study my shifts, I try to study my opponent.”
She says the adjustment to discuss the NHL won’t be a challenge, and says that a lack of women’s hockey clips means that they often watch clips of NHL players to prepare.
“People always look at it as men’s sports and women’s sports but when I hear men’s hockey and women’s hockey, they both have hockey in it. We’re talking about the same game. The only thing that is different between the two is the contact, even though there’s less and less in the men’s game.
“I don’t see any difference between the two. I will always remember Kevin Dineen when he came to coach us at the Sochi Olympics in 2014. He was always asked what the biggest difference was between men and women when you coach them, and he said ‘there isn’t one and I coach them the same way.’
“We both work all of our lives to win a championship, whether it’s an Olympic gold medal or a Stanley Cup.”
Daoust’s role is the latest in several new roles for women in hockey. Kendall Coyne-Schofield was recently named a coach for the Chicago Blackhawks, among others who have taken front office and scouting jobs. She says every advancement for women in hockey is a positive step.
It comes at a time when their lives as hockey players is up in the air. The PWHPA continues to fight for a league that pays players a living wage. They also hope to play in the World Championship after it was cancelled earlier this year, but like many international tournaments besides the World Juniors, that is very much in question.
“We had so much momentum, not only with the NHL but also other partners. We could see the light at the end of the tunnel,” Daoust said. “Our goal has not changed. It’s hard to prove our product on the ice because we don’t have access to do that, but we still need to look at our options and evaluate everything.”
The 28-year-old Valleyfield native chooses to see the bright side of this extended off time.
“It’s never good news when a championship is cancelled. We work so hard throughout the year for that moment, but at the same time it’s a good mental test,” she said. “One of the challenges we face as a team is how to continue to improve despite the fact that we’re not together as a team, despite the fact that we’re not competing. It’s necessary to push ourselves in the gym and in practices every day, and that’s a big leadership role that I take to heart. We need to try to bring our best every day so that everyone gets better.”
After making her Olympic debut in 2014, she suffered a knee injury that forced her to miss most of the following season. It’s something she can draw from in these times.
“There are a lot of athletes that when they get hurt it’s a big setback. For me, when I tore my knee in 2014 and I was out for eight months to a year, it was really a moment of reflection for me to concentrate on something different and that was a mental challenge and I was able to use it when I got back on the ice.
“I was at McGill at the time and every practice, every game, I was in the stands, in the room to get comments, and I learned a lot about systems and what kind of player I wanted to be on the ice. It also helped me develop as a leader off the ice because I tried to help them even though I wasn’t on the ice. I really learned a lot.
“This year, it’s another reality check. I’m not injured but you see the game differently. How can I get better? I’m not playing but I can still practise so I might as well improve, and later when I can get on the ice it will pay off like it did after my injury.”