Paying it forward

Having learned so much over a brilliant career, Team Canada's Jocelyne Larocque turns her eye toward a teaching path

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Amid the gloom of the pandemic, there are beacons of hope like Jocelyne Larocque.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 13/04/2020 (1029 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Amid the gloom of the pandemic, there are beacons of hope like Jocelyne Larocque.

She has much to teach.

A two-time Olympian and seven-time medallist at the world championships, the pride of Ste. Anne missed out on a chance to add to her hardware collection when the women’s hockey worlds slated for Halifax were cancelled last month.

Jocelyne Larocque (right) defends against United States’ Sydney Brodt during a rivalry series game in Hartford, Conn., in December 2019. (Michael Dwyer / The Associated Press files)

The disappointment, for Larocque and her Canadian teammates, was profound.

But these days, based in Brantford, Ont., she’s eager to forge ahead — continuing to build a small business while keeping her competitive career flourishing.

A member of the senior national team since 2009, Larocque turns 32 next month.

“I feel so bad for the players that would have been in their first world championship,” said Larocque in a recent phone chat. “That’s gotta be pretty heartbreaking. Next year, it’s not going to be the exact same team that they were going to bring this year…

“Age is a number but I actually feel the best I’ve felt in my life, physically and mentally. I try to not let age be an excuse. I’m going to play as long as I can and obviously it is in the back of my mind, but I feel good and I’m going to keep pushing and hopefully make that roster again next year.”

How she has adapted to stay at the top of her game could have a lot to do with blending her hockey life with work.

A co-owner of Stoke Strength and Conditioning, Larocque and her two business partners operate locations in nearby Hamilton and Cambridge, Ont. While the gyms are shuttered during the pandemic, they are still able to interact with clients online.

Larocque’s personal fitness routine synchronizes nicely with her post as Stoke’s hockey co-ordinator and coach. That attention to fitness, she admitted, has also helped her overcome injuries as she gets older.

“I think the biggest thing is take care of your body,” she said. “A lot of past teammates, sometimes when you have a little injury you try to play through it and it can become a chronic injury and I think I’ve done a good job of taking care of my body in that sense. As you get older, you learn more about the game so I feel like I understand the game, know the game better than I did in my early 20s.”

Larocque (third from left) and Canadian teammates aren’t too happy with silver in the 2018 Olympics.(Matt Slocum / The Associated Press files)

One former teammate Bailey Bram, who also hails from Ste. Anne, laughs when asked whether she is surprised by Larocque’s longevity.

“Jocelyne is always someone I’ve looked up to,” said Bram. “Some of that has to do with being from Ste. Anne but on top of that, within the team atmosphere, she was always someone you knew was going to show up in the best shape. On the ice, she could be so relied on. She never, ever cut corners and the older she got, the more important that became to her.”

Larocque and Bram built parallel careers in the NCAA and with the national team before Bram called it a career early this year.

“She realized early on in her career that the older she got, the more she had to take care of herself and so being one of the older ones on the team, she takes more pride than anyone in ensuring she’s in the best shape of her life, ensuring she’s doing everything she can to still be that leader on and off the ice,” added Bram.

“And to show the girls what it takes to be one of the best defencemen in the world.”

Staying fit is one thing but maintaining your competitive chops since the demise of the Canadian Women’s Hockey League has become a challenge for elite players after college.

Last season, Larocque played seven games with the national team and another 10 games with the Professional Women’s Hockey Players’ Association during showcase weekends, the most recent coming on March 9 in Phoenix. Seventeen games at a top competitive level are a thin substitute for players such as Larocque, who’s accustomed to twice that number or more.

She supports the work of PWHPA operations consultant Jayna Hefford, who is spearheading the effort to build a sustainable women’s professional league.

Larocque (left) wants one more shot at Olympic gold. (Frank Gunn / The Canadian Press files)

“I don’t want to lie, it’s been tough but what keeps all of us motivated, the players that are in the PWHPA, is that we’re fighting for something bigger,” said Larocque. “Taking a stand for something that’s right is so important to me but this is all so much bigger than myself… I practised more this season than I have my whole life… It’s all for something bigger. If young girls can aspire to play in a professional league, that’s something we’re trying to fight for.”

Larocque hopes to play in the new league when it materializes. But does she have a timetable for an end to her playing career?

“I don’t have one for when I’d like to wrap things up,” she said. “I would say my goal right now would be 2022 in Beijing, so the next Olympics. I also like to take things year by year. How does my body feel and am I still having fun? And every year the answer has been, ‘Yes.’ I can’t see it being, ‘No,’ anytime soon but you have to ask yourself those questions.”

mike.sawatzky@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @sawa14

Mike Sawatzky

Mike Sawatzky
Reporter

Mike has been working on the Free Press sports desk since 2003.

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