This season, it’s about winning battles, not winning the war.
Genevieve Lacasse, goalie for the Boston Blades of the Canadian Women's Hockey League, has been in net for 1,203 minutes through 20 games, the highest total in the five-team league. She faces an average of 51 shots a night, stopping 91.5% of them, and has never taken a game off. However, despite her monumental efforts, her team is dead last in the league with only a single shootout win to go with 19 losses.
This is a far cry from the 2014-15 season, when Lacasse backstopped a team full of U.S. Olympians to the regular season title and the league's Clarkson Cup handily. Following the successful campaign, Boston saw a majority of the team sign with the fledgling National Women's Hockey League for a less grueling schedule and a salary, essentially meaning the team in front of Lacasse had to be built from scratch by Blades general manager Krista Patronick.
“Obviously, going to the NWHL was pretty tempting,” said Lacasse. “I talked it over with [Boston captain Tara] Watchorn and some of the U.S. girls, what they thought. It kind of came down to sticking it out with the Blades and trying to rebuild something. As a goalie I want to be able to get as many reps in as I can and it was a good challenge. You can never turn that down.”
Lacasse got her wish: She hasn't sat out a game this season, getting plenty of ice time and facing nearly twice the number of pucks on net a goalie normally faces. It's the challenge she wanted, but it's also tough to keep a positive outlook when, despite what the league has recognized as All-Star caliber play, her team continues to lose.
“It's obviously frustrating not winning; I hate to lose,” Lacasse said, her easygoing manner growing intense for a moment. Instead, she focuses on winning each save and period. The small victories are her focus this season, with the objective of becoming a goaltender on the Canadian Olympic team.
First is the starting spot this year at IIHF Women's World Championships in Russia in May, then again in 2017. Then, she says, the Olympics.
“For me, that's my spot,” Lacasse said, “That's where I want to be, and I don't accept anything else for myself. At the same time, I can't put too much pressure on myself. I do that sometimes. I think I go into it with nothing to lose.
“Going into the start of the season there were almost no expectations on us,” Lacasse said.
But when Lacasse began to put too-high expectations on herself, expecting to win the game for her team by shutting down all access to the net, she began slumping under the pressure.
“I say to myself, ‘All right, if you have an unbelievable game, we could win this game,’ you know?“ Lacasse said. “Maybe we'll get a goal or two and I can have an unbelievable game and win this one for our team, and I find that those games are the times when I've played the worst.
“I think that when I've gone into a game just trying to have fun, as silly as it sounds, I play my best.”
It’s been a learning curve for Lacasse, who has made adjustments after years of facing some of the best women’s hockey players in the world.
“When I think back...” Lacasse paused. “My first senior camp was the first camp after the Vancouver Olympics. We went into a shootout after the game and [Canadian Olympian and current Les Canadiennes de Montreal assistant captain Caroline] Ouellette was their first shooter. She came down on me and at the hashmark just ripped the puck five-hole. I didn't even have time to go down, it just went in, hit the middle bar in the net and just came back out through my five-hole as fast as it went in,” Lacasse laughed. “She really marked me with that. That's always in the back of my head, that one play.”
Though she can joke about it, that tally and others like it made her determined to be better every time she gets in net, and her progress hasn’t gone unnoticed. Ouellette, for instance, finds Lacasse more of a challenge to score on the days.
“You have to make sure she's screened or score on a rebound because she's going to make that first save,” Ouellette said. “The goalie I scored on five-hole when she started on the National Team, she's not there anymore.”
That growth has made Lacasse all the more valuable to the Blades this season.
“This year Boston isn't as strong,” said Ouellette. “She's been great when we faced her with Les Canadiennes. We have a lot of depth on our offense and we had 50, 60 shots a game against her. She's the difference on that team. She was their best player, that's for sure.”
It can be difficult for Lacasse to balance her ambition and the effect expectations and pressure can have on her game. That's where her moment-by-moment mentality comes in, coupled with a lighthearted and adventurous approach to life, which she doesn't let go, on or off the ice.
To defray the tension when it comes to the National Team, she's taken on the role of Team Canada's jokester. When she burns nearly 2,000 calories in a single game, she has what she calls ‘Pancake Mondays‘ with Watchorn where she orders two full breakfasts and downs both. After the high intensity of the Sochi Olympics she joined the largest-ever expedition to the North Pole, trekking 125 km on skis over five days with Ouellette as part of a fundraising effort for True Patriot Love, helping to raise $1.75 million (CAD) toward PTSD research.
And we can't forget the on-ice chirping.
“I was telling [Ouellette] when we played Montreal last week, ‘Oh, you should shift a bit left–I can still see,’” Lacasse laughed. She finds ways to keep it light and fun, no matter what is going on and she's seen the benefit to doing so.
“It's really exciting,” she said. “I feel like my game's been growing and growing, and I still have more levels to mature.
“It's an honor to play with the best players in the world on this stage at the All-Star Game, to play with the best players and showcase women's hockey. Really try to spread the word of the CWHL and of women's hockey.”