Another year, another camp. That’s what it looks like on paper. But in reality, the Ouellette-Poulin Adult Hockey Camp has very quickly become the axis around which my hockey calendar (as well as my teammates and friends’ calendars) revolves. We spend half the year getting amped for two days on the ice in Montreal and the other half of the year reminiscing and belly laughing about what happened at camp.
Last year, eight friends and I attended camp. This year another nine of us rolled into Montreal, some for their second camp and others for their first. The 2019 Adult Camp at Ronald Caron Arena was sold out with 78 participants who chose to spend a beautiful summer weekend indoors with Caroline Ouellette, Marie Philip-Poulin, Ann-Sophie Bettez, Kim Deschenes, Julie Chu, Laura Stacey, and Charline Labonte. The camp schedule consists of four 1.5 hour ice sessions, two off-ice training sessions, and two classroom sessions. Even though it was the second year in a row for some of us, almost all the drills and activities were different. And, the small spaces games always bring out the best of what hockey has to offer: intensity, camaraderie, and adaptability.
Poulin talked about her personal journey on the first day with a PowerPoint that may or may not have edited her family from the slides 🤣. She talked about the growth of girls hockey in her hometown, and the sacrifices that her parents made to facilitate her success. Pou also very candidly touched on the emotional/psychological struggles of returning home after PyeongChang, explaining that it was the Humboldt tragedy that helped realign her perspectives on life and hockey. On the second day, Ouellette, Julie Chu, and Laura Stacey talked broadly about the state of the women’s game, the closure of the CWHL, and how important it is for people to support all women’s sports.
One of the cool perks of attending camp (aside from meeting folks from the Twitterverse and hanging out with incredible coaches) is that you get access to merchandise that you’re not going to find anywhere else. Pou had her siiiiiiiiiiick new line of Bauer MPP clothing on sale (as worn by Pou and Stacey in these photos), in addition to the Ouellette-Poulin camp swag. I had no intentions of buying any merchandise this year. I left with a matching a MPP t-shirt and hoodie. Someone in our Westcoast Crew left Montreal with enough new swag to dress herself for a full week. Caro also had some of her sticks (new and used) available for purchase.
Last year’s post was really about my own reflections and emotions but this year I wanted to illustrate the collective experience. So, here are some of the highlights, “lowlights,” and takeaways from the Westcoast Crew’s (+1) 2019 camp experience:
Courtney (Forward, Returning camper)
- Describe camp in one word or emoji: My. Happy. Place. (It’s my post, so I can fudge the rules).
- Best memory: Scoring a goal assisted by Coach Ann-So. Getting a hug from Pou was alright too, I guess 😏
- Favourite drill/activity: Add-On. This was a game that starts 2-on-2 but you have the opportunity to add an additional two players if you can make tape to tape passes with a player waiting in the wings.
- Most embarrassing moment or realization of how bad you were at something: When Pou had us stick handling side to side with body weight opposite of the puck to mimic puck protection. In my head, I knew exactly what I was supposed to do. In practice…it wasn’t going so well with an imaginary defender.
- Most significant hockey takeaway: My top elbow needs to be much further away from my body for stick handling.
- Anything else you want to share about your experience: Just come.
Lydia (Forward, First-time camper)
- Describe camp in one word or emoji: Awesome.
- Best memory: At Coach Pou’s turn and shoot station, we had run out of time so I was going to miss my turn. I looked all disappointed so Pou told me to go anyways while we waited for the other group to arrive. With my back facing the net, I turned and roofed a forehand top corner, post and in. Then I did the same thing on the backhand side! Pou dropped her gloves and applauded me.
- Favourite drill/activity: Turn and shoot with Pou!
- Most embarrassing moment or realization of how bad you were at something: When I played backwards skating tag with Court and I realized how much work my backwards skating needs.
- Most significant hockey takeaway: Shooting in stride and loading on one leg.
- Anything else you want to share about your experience: How sore I am and how I can’t really walk at all. But also, how the coaches really wanted us to learn and their eagerness to make us better hockey players.
Clara (Goalie, First-time camper)
- Describe camp in one word or emoji: 😵
- Best memory: Meeting the Olympians and, especially for myself as a goalie, getting to meet Charline Labonte.
- Favourite drill/activity: Playing the tennis ball drill during the second day of dry land training. We had to run to catch the tennis ball before it bounced a second time. We were grouped with our teammates and our competitiveness against each other made it very fun.
- Most embarrassing moment or realization of how bad you were at something: Falling and taking what felt like decades to get back up during early rebound drill training on Day 2. We were going through a balance exercise utilizing butterfly slides without a goalie stick. We were required to redirect pucks with our slides into adjacent nets. What was suppose to be a routine motion felt incredibly difficult and awkward. After a couple of attempts, I failed to pull my own legs back under me to reset — a malfunction of brain and body. It was this very embarrassing slow motion fall, legs splayed, before finally collapsing onto my butt. I sat there exhausted, frustrated, and utterly embarrassed. I realized just how dependent I was on my stick for balance and how wacky of a difference it was without it.
- Most significant hockey takeaway: Power and fluidity for T pushes. Also, it doesn’t matter where you start, if you are persistent and dedicate yourself to something you can achieve amazing things.
- Anything else you want to share about your experience: Our mentors are not just amazing players but absolutely amazing individuals. They are passionate about what they do, humble, and self-sacrificing. I have a deep regard for them. It was a wonderful experience and I plan to go as a skater next year.
Nicole (Forward, Returning camper)
- Describe camp in one word or emoji: 😍
- Best memory: I have so many memories, it’s so hard to pick just one. My one-timer off of Ann-So’s pass, and trying to catch Tanya D while she was darting backwards and falling on my flat on my face as I tried to reach for her. I knew I was in trouble from the beginning of that drill.
- Favourite drill/activity: Add on.
- Most embarrassing moment or realization of how bad you were at something: Seeing video footage of myself shooting off one leg at Caro’s station illuminated my unknown tendency to karate-kick forward on the shot 🤣 That was definitely not part of the instruction given.
- Most significant hockey takeaway: Elbows out! I do not want to go back and have Pou show me my T-Rex arms again.
- Anything else you want to share about your experience: These women are not just skilled coaches and athletes but they are super fun people to be around. They are very genuine in their care for helping you to get better and in their storytelling.
Dawn (Defence, Returning camper)
- Describe camp in one word or emoji: Faaaaantastic.
- Best memory: Scoring on Clara!
- Favourite drill/activity: Backwards skating station with Caro.
- Most embarrassing moment or realization of how bad you were at something: Trying to figure out how to use the rebounder [Hockey Shot 4-way Elite Passer]. I could only get one out of every five pucks to work.
- Most significant hockey takeaway: To be able to protect the puck while skating at speed.
- Anything else you want to share about your experience: I hate 1-2-3, Red-White-Blue (dry-land training game). [Author’s Note: There were some curse words exchanged during this exercise].
Tanya D (Defence, Returning camper)
- Describe camp in one word or emoji: FunSweaty? 😅
- Best memory: Getting direct feedback from Caro on my shot and skating technique! (Non hockey – laughing for a straight hour after dinner on Sunday).
- Favourite drill/activity: I loved the 3-on-3 passing-under-the-bars [HockeyShot Speed Deke Trainer] game and the Add-on small space game. I LOVED being able to practice this with teammates! It seemed like there was way more passing this year, which was awesome.
- Most embarrassing moment or realization of how bad you were at something: The skating drills! This was tough for me because I’ve skated my whole life and I’ve always relied on it as my biggest strength in my game. But Caro is a technical powerhouse! She managed to interrupt all my bad habits and poke holes in all my weak spots. It push me so hard…but I loved it!
- Most significant hockey takeaway: To work on my weight transfer! This works for my skating and my shooting (feet and hands) and I think would make the biggest change to my overall game.
- Anything else you want to share about your experience: a) I feel like I was so much stronger this year! Last year I felt a bit overwhelmed and in my head/confused a lot. This year was just as challenging, but in a much more technical and physical way. I’m really amazed how much from last year stuck, and how I was building on it. b) How grateful and happy I am to have done this! I’ve never had any opportunity to have such high-level coaching — and never from women — and it has totally changed how I feel about the game. I feel like I’m having way more fun and getting better again (which is an awesome feeling at 42).
Tanya C (Forward, First-time camper)
- Describe camp in one word or emoji: HUMBLING! 🙂
- Best memory: Dry land training with my long time competitive, but super supportive, teammates. Scrimmages on the ice with my teammates, specially the 2-on-2s.
- Favourite drill/activity: Sooooo many! Dry land Tic-Tac-Toe or Red White Blue-123 (with Julie Chu). On ice, the scrimmages and ice poker.
- Most embarrassing moment or realization of how bad you were at something: Where to start? Every one of Caro’s stations!!! Backwards skating and breakaways …totally f*cking embarrassing. MPP’s station when I totally forgot to shoot from the blue line (after she had JUST reminded us) 😬🥴☹️ ( I’m so DUMB!!!)
- Most significant hockey takeaway: Ass down (like really down), chest up, and stick AWAY from the body
- Anything else you want to share about your experience: Physically, one of the hardest and sweatiest weekends of my life. Worth every second of the pain. Until you’ve been there, it’s hard to describe the humility and gratitude you will feel, being mentored by these extraordinary athletes. For as long as I am fit and able, I will be an Ouellette-Poulin hockey camp lifer!
Young (Forward, First-time camper)
- Describe camp in one word or emoji: 😍❤️🔥🏒
- Best memory: When Pou called my name during a drill session to let me know that I was not following her instructions. (In my defence, I had a hard time following instructions in general during the whole camp because I was mesmerized by their existence in the same space that I was in. And, I was busy looking at their eyes so I could not really hear what they were saying.)
- Favourite drill/activity: Impossible to choose one favourite activity, but if I have to mention one: Puck handling in a small circle with a bunch of people in it! + Julie Chu tried to take my puck away from me!
- Most embarrassing moment or realization of how bad you were at something: When Courtney sent me a video of myself doing a drill. I thought the video was on slo-mo.
- Most significant hockey takeaway: Knees bent, head up, eyes forward, stick down, and soft bottom hand.
- Anything else you want to share about your experience: Unforgettable once-in-a-lifetime experience. Period.
Julie (Goalie, First-time camper)
- Describe camp in one word or emoji: Incredible.
- Best memory: Standing ready for a shot by Ouellette at centre ice as she was demonstrating the drill, then actually stopping it, deflecting the puck over the glass off the shaft of my stick. Immediately the coaches tapped their sticks on the ice, I raised my arms as if I won the Stanley Cup, and one of the coaches skated by me and fist-bumped my glove and said, “Nice save!”
- Favourite drill/activity: The one-timer drill where half the players were behind the net to one side and Julie Chu was to my left, half the other players were on the ringette line in front of me. I start on my left post, player received pass, skated in and shot on me for the first part. Then a puck behind the net and I had to start on my right post and slide out for a butterfly save after a pass from behind the net.
- Most embarrassing moment or realization of how bad you were at something: Trying to catch that damn tennis ball before the second bounce. Julie Chu dropped the ball and I stumbled over too far forward lunging for the ball trying to beat Nic. Instead of catching it, I fell, twisting my knee. Julie had to come over and ask, “Are you OK?!”, and almost gave me a hand up but I was like, “Nah, I’m good.” LOL. My knee was hurting but she wasn’t gonna know that!
- Most significant hockey takeaway: Change my stance (trunk a bit more forward and over) because I was squatting too low. Charline told me how she breaks in her glove so I’m going to do the same thing! Also, I can’t believe only 4% of women’s sports are covered! I can’t believe the media can skew things and influence so much of what we see (e.g. the NHL All-Star Game not showing how Brianna Decker dominated the passing challenge). There is something very wrong with that and the huge takeaway is: I want to do more to promote women’s hockey and help all the Ouellette and Poulins out there get paid to play hockey!!!
- Anything else you want to share about your experience: I want the world to know that this was the most amazing and inspiring experience of my life. MPP’s right thigh alone has motivated me to train and work even harder during my off-season. I want people to know that all the women who coached us are wonderful, passionate, and humble human beings who just love the game. They are incredible athletes, who train harder than many other pro athletes because they strive to really be the best they can be, regardless of the medals and trophies they’ve already earned. They want to promote hockey so that the world will know that despite the biological differences between a man and a woman, there is excellence in both!
If you want a more concrete example of how awesome these women are, one of our teammates who was unable to attend this year’s camp made a custom card for the coaches signed by all of us who attended the last two years. Here’s how Caro and Pou showed their appreciation:
It’s little things like this that make women’s hockey fans some of the most devout supporters you will find in the sports world. They care, so we care.
Update: We’re still trying to put Bonnie back together 😂.
* * *
At dinner on Sunday night, a lot of the discussion around our dinner table revolved around 1.) how much one’s legs hurt, and 2.) how surprised the first time campers were that they had no idea that the CWHL had existed and that these women were so accessible to them in between Olympic years. Being geographically isolated in Vancouver with no CWHL presence the last 12 years is one thing, but not knowing that the CWHL existed is precisely why it folded. The lack of television coverage was a significant reason why very few could support the league. Hockey is supposed to be the cultural activity that fosters a collective Canadian experience and media coverage is a necessary part of that equation. When Hockey Night in Canada broadcasts were created it was specifically to bring Canadian families around their radios, and then televisions, to create a nation out of a diverse populace living together on a geographically vast landscape. Sadly, that honour has predominantly been reserved for the men of Canada. These women are trying to change that narrative, but they cannot do it alone.
In my observation, it only takes one interaction with an elite woman hockey player, one game, or one media segment to become a fan and supporter of the game; yet, the majority of Canadians have been denied this opportunity for decades now. These women deserve so much better than the conditions they have been forced to accept. [Not-so-fun fact: the women of the CWHL and NWHL face the same conditions today, and sometimes worse, than the women who played during the 1930s, like the Preston Rivulettes). No one is entitled to fame and fortune but these women have done more than enough to earn the respect of fans, sponsors, and media executives, which is why this historical back peddle that we find ourselves in currently is so frustrating/enraging/unjust. If no one with the power to correct this…”error”…is willing to step up then we seriously need to consider solving the lack of investment problem ourselves [see our pitch for a fan/player owned and operated league HERE from our 3-part myth busting series]. In the mean time, if you want to support women hockey players here are a few options to consider:
- Check out Dan Harbridge’s hockey camp spreadsheet to see if there are any opportunities close to you: Pro Women’s Hockey Player Run Summer Camps 2019.
- You can sign up for the upcoming Megan Bozek/Kristen Richards Adult Hockey Camp in Oakville, Ontario on August 17/18, just email firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Sign up to volunteer your skills and/or offer your resources to the newly formed Professional Women’s Hockey Player’s Association (PWHPA) HERE. #ForTheGame
- Start saving your pennies for next year’s Ouellette-Poulin camps.
À la prochaine!
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