If Caroline Ouellette were a man, news of her retirement would be leading every sportscast in Canada. There would have been a live news conference carried by all the networks, along with non-stop reflections and analysis of her career. It’s a shame that this might be the first you’re reading about one of the all-time greatest players in the history of the game announcing that she is hanging up her skates.
Instead, Ouellette announced her retirement by penning an open letter to her daughter, Liv, whom she shares with her spouse, former American hockey great Julie Chu. Hockey Canada also made the announcement, which received scant attention in the mainstream hockey media. Of course, it doesn’t help that women’s hockey is generally negligent in promoting their own players. There was not a single mention of Ouellette’s retirement on the Canadian Women’s Hockey League’s website and, shockingly, only a regurgitation of tweets from Radio-Canada Sports, the Montreal Canadiens’ Foundation and Hockey Canada on the website of the Canadiennes de Montreal, the CWHL franchise for which Ouellette had played the past seven seasons.
But make no mistake. This is a huge deal. Think Mark Messier when it comes to leadership, Scott Niedermayer when it comes to winning championships. Ouellette is one of the game’s all-time great players, not just one of the all-time great women players, and is an absolute no-brainer to be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2021, one year after Hayley Wickenheiser makes her way into the shrine. (Chu is also eligible for induction herself in 2020 and when she eventually gets in, that would make Ouellette and Chu the only spouses inducted in the players’ category.)
The team accomplishments alone are absolutely staggering for Ouellette. In fact, Ouellette is the only Canadian in any sport to enter four Olympic events and win gold in all four of them, the last one of which she captained Canada to the gold medal. Add to that six World Women’s championship gold medals, five titles in the National/Canadian Women’s Hockey League, one NCAA title and five World Championship silver medals. She might also be the first player in history to win a title in the midst of a pregnancy, something she did when she and Chu won the Clarkson Cup with the Canadiennes in 2017.
And the individual accomplishments are just as impressive. She was twice named the most valuable player in the CWHL and won one scoring title. Three times in the World Championships she was named one of Canada’s top three players and scored at least a point-per-game at every level of competition over the course of her career. In her combined N/CWHL career, she scored 482 points in just 260 games and in three years with the University of Minnesota-Duluth, she averaged 2.36 points per game.
Hall of Famer Cammi Granato recalled first seeing Ouellette play as a teenager when her Concordia University team played against Ouellette’s team in the mid-1990s. And then as a regular opponent in international competition, she watched Ouellette develop into and offensive star and a leader for the Canadian program. “She was shy and she was a good player, but over the years when she grew into her confidence, she was a real threat,” Granato said. “I liked the way she played. She played with a lot of class. She definitely used her size to her advantage, but as far as offensively, at one point she just came into her own and just stayed there.”
Former Team Canada teammate Jennifer Botterill said the key to much of Ouellette’s success was the product of two things – her love for the game and her ability to adapt. “Initially, when she first came onto the scene, everybody thought of her as this power forward,” Botterill said. “But she continued to evolve and develop her game. I think she always respected the evolution of the game and was always finding new ways to get better and find ways to be dominant every time she played. Playing against her in the CWHL and playing with her on Team Canada, I thought she always elevated the people around her. I think (Canadian star) Marie-Philip (Poulin) learned a lot from her.”
Along with motherhood, Ouellette will continue to run the hockey schools with Chu and plans to get more involved in coaching. She has served at different times as an assistant coach at Minnesota-Duluth, the Canadian under-18 team and Concordia University. Her former teammate has no doubt Ouellette has the tools to be as successful as a coach as she was a player. “I think she has the potential for a very long and successful career on the coaching side,” Botterill said. “She will be excellent.”