Sports

The star of the Quebec goalkeepers has faded

The decline in Quebec representation among NHL goaltenders is no longer news. What is less talked about, however, is the similar phenomenon that occurs among women in the national curriculum.

Posted at 5:00 a.m.

Simon Olivier Lorange

Simon Olivier Lorange
The Press

The loss of expertise among coaches here would be in question. Just like the number of goalkeepers.

The elite of women’s hockey are converging on Calgary this week, where Hockey Canada’s summer camp will be held. The senior team will mark the start of a new Olympic cycle, while the U18 and U22 formations (development team) will instead select their athletes for the 2022-2023 season.

More than 140 players received an invitation.

A little less than 14% of these are from Quebec, which is well below the actual proportion of the population of the province compared to that of the country (23%).

This is not a surprise in itself: over the past year, two substantial reports have documented just how lagging Quebec is. In September 2021, the report of the Women’s Hockey Summit recalled that far fewer girls practiced this sport in Quebec than in Alberta and British Columbia, two provinces that are much less populous. In 2019-2020, there were almost eight times more players in Ontario than in La Belle Province.

It is therefore not without meaning that representation in national teams is a reflection of this phenomenon. The report of the Quebec Committee on Hockey Development, tabled last winter, made a series of recommendations to stimulate women’s hockey.

However, a certain perception remained in the collective mind. The one that goalkeepers were escaping this trend. Ann-Renée Desbiens’ performances at the recent Beijing Olympics left the whole country speechless. She succeeded her compatriots Manon Rhéaume, Kim St-Pierre and Charline Labonté, who have shone since the women’s return to the Games in 1998.

Ève Gascon, who plays for the Saint-Laurent Cégep Patriotes men’s team, played two games with the Gatineau Olympiques last season. Many observers see her as the next big star for the Canadian team in goal.

PHOTO EDOUARD PLANTE-FRÉCHETTE, LA PRESSE ARCHIVES

Eve Gascon

At Hockey Canada’s summer camp, however, there will be only one other Quebecer in this position: Arianne Leblanc, who will try to land a position in the U18s. They will therefore be 3 out of 19 goalkeepers in total (15.8%).

When we look at the recent history of the U18 national team, we see that the star of Quebec goalkeepers has faded. From 2012 to 2019, between the passages of Desbiens (2011) and Gascon (2020), Quebec women were entrusted with the net for only 5 of the 41 matches of the Canadian formation at the Worlds. Those who played these meetings, Edith D’Astous-Moreau (4) and Mahika Sarrazin (1), are no longer in the bosom of Hockey Canada.

Lack coaches

Simon Grondines is quick to discuss this trend.

Coach of the goalkeepers for the Quebec U18 team which will be at the Canada Games in 2023, he knows perfectly well the state of the forces in front of the nets of the province.

He firmly believes in the potential of Arianne Leblanc to be the next Worlds. And he sees a ton of talent coming in the cohorts born in 2007 and 2008.

The trough of the last few years – with the exception of Ève Gascon – he has however observed. Even at the Olympics, Desbiens rose in 2022 after a long reign by Albertan Shannon Szabados.

This phenomenon, he explains it, sadly, with great spontaneity.

PHOTO FROM A HOCKEY QUEBEC YOUTUBE VIDEO

There is a lack of coaches. This is true for boys, but even worse for girls. Those who play in men’s teams, they will have a goalkeeper coach. But in many female bantam and midget AAA teams, there are none. It’s all the more difficult to develop goalkeepers when you know that the number one tool is coaching.

Simon Grondines, goalkeeper coach for the Quebec U18 team

The shortage is particularly glaring away from major centres. “There is a real lack of training, laments Simon Grondines in a telephone interview. A volunteer parent will get on the ice and do what he can, but he doesn’t have the qualities to get on [les gardiennes] on another level. »

The one who lives in Quebec was approached recently by a club on the South Shore of Montreal to do remote mentoring with local coaches. A clearly insufficient level of intervention, according to him, to “line up clinics and monitor progress”.

In addition, he says, the pool of Ontario players is so huge that they have invariably taken a higher place in the national selections. The proof, if it were yet to be done: during the last 10 editions of the U18 World Cup, an Ontario woman has obtained the majority of Canadian starts five times.

Valuation

Danièle Sauvageau, one of the best-known figures in hockey in Quebec, knows the challenges of the women’s section from every angle. The 21.02 High Performance Center, which she co-founded, organized the Women’s Hockey Summit in 2021. And she sat on the Quebec Committee on Hockey Development, which recommended a whole series of actions to the state to rethink the sport from the bottom up, from recruiting talent at a young age to nurturing a new generation of female coaches.

Promoting women’s hockey is at the heart of the process, down to the most basic details. In particular to “ensure that the little girls who register are welcome and [de] stop directing them to other sports,” said Danièle Sauvageau in an interview.

Ontario “began organizing women’s hockey over 25 years ago,” she continues. “Things don’t happen by themselves, they set to work. »

The observations she makes about her sport apply to all positions, “but you have to go there in an even more specific way” with the goalkeepers, she notes.

PHOTO PATRICK SANFAÇON, LA PRESSE ARCHIVES

We have to make sure that there are specialists, on the technical level, yes, but also in the development of general and athletic skills. Everything must be there.

Daniele Sauvageau

The defenders are in the same boat as the goalkeepers, she recalls. Verification made, of all those who will be evaluated in Calgary this week, only 3 out of 43 are from Quebec.

For years, Danièle Sauvageau has been campaigning for the creation of structures that will allow female hockey players to continue playing after they go to university. She therefore welcomes the arrival of leagues (she emphasizes the use of the plural) in Montreal, in particular the PHF.

This improved “service offer” will allow young women to continue their development on the ice and reach their full potential, which is not necessarily reached in their early twenties. The goaltenders, who play in a “late development” position, would be the first winners.

All this so that the national program is no longer the only vehicle for elite hockey for women. And that those, guards or others, who have not received their invitation to Calgary aspire to have their chance in the future rather than giving up on their careers.

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