Victoria, BC. - February 3 2020 - Game 3 of the Rivalry Series as Canada take on USA at the Save on Foods Memorial Centre in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada. (Photo by Matthew Murnaghan/Hockey Canada)

Jocelyne Larocque: No. 3 Plays in No. 11

By Scott Taylor

Photos by James Carey Lauder and courtesy Toronto PWHL and Hockey Canada Images

Hockey is a game of aggression, passion and excitement.

So, when Canada’s national women’s hockey coach, Troy Ryan, called 35-year-old Jocelyne Larocque to tell her she had made Team Canada again, he had one question for her.

“This will be my 11th world championship and oh my god, it’s still so exciting,” said Larocque, the oldest player on Team Canada. “It’s funny, but the first thing Troy asked me when he called me, ‘I hope this is still really exciting?’ I said, ‘Of course, it is!’ We have a great group of players, it’s an honour any time I get to wear the maple leaf and the fact the U.S. is hosting will make it really great. It will be fun to give it to them in their home country. I’m always excited about playing in the worlds. I’m definitely looking forward to it.”

Larocque, a proud Red River Metis woman who came out of tiny Ste. Anne, Man., to become the most decorated Indigenous athlete in Canadian history, is now second only to Marie-Philip Poulin in appearances at the Worlds. Poulin will wear the maple leaf for the 12th time this spring. For Larocque, it will be her 11th appearance. She has played in every world championship since 2012 (there was no tournament in 2020 due to the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic) and seems to improve every year. At last year’s Worlds, she played two games in which she had more than 30 minutes of ice time and averaged 24 minutes a game throughout the tournament.

The 5-foot-4 defender who plays for Toronto in the PWHL, has become one of the most important players in the history of Canadian women’s international hockey. Born and raised in Ste. Anne, she won two NCAA championships and was an All-American at the University of Minnesota-Duluth.

After graduation she played with the Manitoba Maple Leafs of the WWHL before joining Alberta of the CWHL in 2012-13. After the Sochi Olympics in 2014, Larocque was traded to Brampton in exchange for another player from Ste. Anne, Bailey Bram. In Brampton, she assumed the captaincy in 2015-16 and led the team to the league championship in 2018.

Now, she’s playing in the brand new PWHL and she couldn’t be more thrilled with the way things have worked out.

“Honestly, all of us were all insanely excited for it to start and we knew it would just be our first year, but it’s surpassed all of our expectations,” she said enthusiastically. “Every day, I feel lucky and I feel grateful. It’s everything I dreamt it would be and more. The exciting thing is, every year it’s going to get better. This was the first year and my feeling kind of was, ‘OK this will be the worst year?’ But it’s hard to imagine it could be any better and yet I feel it’s just going to get better and better. It’s so exciting.”

Larocque was the second player selected in the PWHL Draft. It has been suggested by some members of the media that Larocque would only play in Toronto and that’s why she wasn’t taken by Minnesota first overall, Larocque herself denies that geography had anything to do with it.

“No, no, it was a real draft,” she said with a chuckle. “I’d played with Toronto prior to this new league and this is where my business is now, but as everyone in the know predicted, Minnesota was going to take Taylor Heise with the first pick. There was no reason they couldn’t have taken me or another player, but they weren’t told to take Taylor Heise, they picked Taylor Heise and then Toronto picked me. You were allowed to speak to the GMs before the draft and I spoke to all the GMs, but at the end of the day Minnesota got the player they wanted and I’m grateful to get to play in Toronto. I’m really glad Toronto picked me.

“It is nice to be home. Gina’s (Toronto’s GM, Kingsbury) been my GM with Team Canada for a number of years. I’ve known her for a long time, I’ve played with her and I respect her. I think she has great vision and I think she’s a tremendous leader, so I wanted her to be my GM. Our head coach, Troy (Ryan) has been my head coach with Team Canada for a number of years, as well, and I love him as a coach. I want to be in Toronto, but it’s because of the staff. I feel very grateful.”

It’s interesting that at the start of this inaugural season, Toronto struggled on the ice. However, in February they went on an eight-game winning streak and by the first of March had taken over first place.

“Our team is great,” she said. “Even at the start when we were struggling, losing a lot of games, it was great because every player tried to find solutions. Naturally, there was a little bit of negativity, but I loved how it never snowballed into something that became a problem. We handled the adversity, we learned from it and then we went on an eight-game winning streak. That was a huge testament to our not going negative and trying to be solution based. We stayed really positive throughout the adversity and that made us stronger and more resilient.

“Things work out the way they’re meant to. We’re still trying to learn every game and get better because the league is so strong. Anyone can take anyone on any night. First-place vs. Sixth-place – Sixth-place could win that game. You can’t underestimate anyone. It’s been a ton of fun.”

Larocque was the first Indigenous Canadian to play for the National Women’s Team and the first Indigenous Canadian to play in the Winter Olympics. She has been a member of the Canadian squad since 2008 and after competing internationally with the under-22 national team for several years, she made her debut at the IIHF Women’s World Championship in 2011. She has won three golds, six silvers and one bronze medal since then.

In her Olympic debut at Sochi in 2014, Larocque was Canada’s top scoring defender, helping the team capture its fourth straight gold medal. She was part of the silver medal-winning Team Canada at PyeongChang 2018 and the gold medal-winning team at Beijing in 2022.

Not surprisingly, she wants to play again in 2026.

“Playing in a fourth is definitely in the plan,” she said. “I signed a three-year contract in Toronto so that will take me through the Olympics. So, if I get chosen for Team Canada I would most definitely play. It’s a goal of mine, but every year you have to earn a spot on that team. I understand that and I work hard toward that.”

Off the ice, Larocque and her partner own two gyms in Ontario – one in Hamilton and one in Cambridge.

“Business is good, yeah, it’s been great,” she said. “With hockey, I’ve taken a secondary role with the gyms. Whenever I can get on the ice with teams and individuals, I do that. We’re busy and that’s not a bad thing for any small business. I live in Hamilton and drive in to Toronto every day. I spend a lot of time in my car. Without traffic, it’s about a 40-minute drive to my practice rink. That’s not bad for Toronto.”

With Larocque, it’s also interesting to note that she excels in ball hockey, as well. Last fall, she and her sister Chantal – with their father Andy behind the bench — led Team Canada to the World Women’s Masters Ball Hockey Championship in Buffalo, N.Y. 

“Ball hockey was a blast,” she said. “I’m a big fan of ball hockey and I’ve been playing ball hockey on-and-off for a number of years. It’s a great way to train for hockey. It’s a ton of fun and to know I can play in the world championship with my sister and my partner and with my dad behind the bench, it was a fun little family affair. Although, I have to say, it’s a very serious sport that is so difficult. All that running. There is no gliding around when it comes to ball hockey. We played two games a day at the tournament and afterwards, I was pretty sore. A lot more sore than I get from ice hockey. It was a ton of fun.”

For Jocelyne Larocque, life these days is a “ton of fun.”