For the Canadian Women’s Hockey League, the two-game set between Les Canadiennes de Montreal and the Calgary Inferno on December 10-11 marked a pair of milestones. For the league, it was a celebration of its 10th anniversary, while Les Canadiennes forward Caroline Ouellette, one of the longest-tenured players in the CWHL, became the first to reach 300 career points.
From the moment to puck dropped on Saturday afternoon, media and fans stared at Ouellette, waiting for that seminal goal or assist.
The scrutiny is likely something she's used to, given that she has played 151 regular season games with the CWHL over eight years, has won four Olympic gold medals with Team Canada and coaches and runs her own annual tournament in Montreal.
But ask her how it felt to reach 300 and she does the equivalent of a verbal shrug.
"I'm not the most comfortable talking about myself," she says. Instead, she gives credit to her teammates, who helped her achieve each and every notch on her stick.
"There'd been quite a bit of hype about [reaching 300 points] so I was hopeful that it would come soon because I wasn't able to do it Saturday," she says, wryly, noting that the pressure to put on a great game in front of a crowd of more than 6,000 at the Bell Centre—one of the largest the CWHL has ever seen—made her a bit nervous in the weekend opener.
Ouellette, her teammates, coaches and the league had done so much to promote the game that it felt enormous; it seemed to Ouellette to have the future of women's hockey riding on it.
With such a large crowd, there was potential for broadening the CWHL's regular paying fanbase, not to mention the league's hope that the NHL and its franchise teams will funnel more dollars into the women's league. If they could put on a stunning performance, she said, maybe this would mean more tickets sold or a even yearly game scheduled in the Bell Centre. Beyond all those endless spiraling thoughts, Ouellette simply wanted to have a good game for the sake of her team.
"Before we went out on the ice we said to each other, just enjoy this moment," says Ouellette. "This is incredible. They are here for us, they are giving us a chance. Let's just go, play our best and that's exactly what we were able to do.”
Montreal goalie Charline Labonte and her Calgary counterpart Emerance Maschmeyer practically put on a clinic. Marie-Philip Poulin’s first-period tally for Les Canadiennes turned out to be the game’s only goal. For Ouellette, the ‘W’ was more important than rewriting the record books
"My [300th] point was a very small thing, and probably the last thing I needed to accomplish that day," Ouellette says. "I knew it would happen eventually. You just have to give the puck to Ann-Sophie Bettez or Marie-Philip Poulin and it's going to be in the net eventually."
And she did, in Sunday’s rematch, assisting on Ann-Sophie Bettez’s first-period tally that brought the crowd to its feet.
While a few teammates congratulated her in the moment and staff had made signs displayed in the stands, the real celebrations were held until after the game. Montreal defenseman Julie Chu, who also coaches the Concordia University Stingers women’s hockey team with Ouellette, sent around an email to their players, praising Ouellette and enumerating all the work it took to get to 300. She didn't, however, let up on the teasing, reminding Ouellette that she was still fighting for her 50th point.
"But who's counting?" Ouellette says, jokingly.
Les Canadiennes were not the only ones to acknowledge Ouellette's milestone moment. Former national team teammate Karell Emard told Ouellette she was one of the fiercest competitor she ever played against; Inferno forward and Canadian national team teammate Brianne Jenner also sent a message after the game, congratulating her on her success, being sure to tell Ouellette that she set the bar very high, indeed.
"Coming from her, I got messages also from Laura Fortino from Brampton, Genevieve Lacasse...that means even more," says Ouellette. "That my teammates and my opponents in the CWHL take the time to acknowledge that, I felt very, very blessed."
This season Ouellette has been on a hot streak, racking up points more prolifically and more quickly than she has in the past three seasons—her 13 goals and 23 points over 14 games lead the league. While Ouellette is no longer playing with Team Canada, giving her a little more time and energy to dedicate to Montreal, that may not be the only reason she's seen that burst of points recently.
"I think it's a mix of I'm enjoying it, I'm having fun, I'm healthy and I have a great team. We've had a great start to the season, we've had great games and I'm surrounded by incredible players, so that all helps, for sure.
While it was nice to get that point, from Ouellette's perspective the true win of the weekend was seeing how much the CWHL has grown.
"I was so proud to see how far our league has come," Ouellette says. "Our first regular season game at the Bell Centre and having 6,000 fans was a moment I'll never forget. For us it was a big test, earning, hopefully, the privilege to play there every year. Hopefully it was a success.
"I think that it's a huge step forward for women's hockey," she continues. "Our dream is to have that pro league and I certainly think that goes with a partnership with the NHL, just like they have in the WNBA and the NBA. Hopefully one day we get to a point where young girls and young boys can aspire to play pro in the sport where they do best. Right now that privilege is only offered to boys. To me, Saturday's game was a huge step towards that.”
What’s next for Ouellette? There’s a few goals, short- and long-term. She’d love to add another Clarkson Cup to her resume, and maybe even a trip back to the Olympics—behind the bench. For now, though, she’s enjoying the ride.
"I loved every minute in the CWHL. I can't believe it's already been ten seasons. I still love it, that's why I still play."