She’s already one of the greatest female players ever produced in Manitoba, but now, Brigette Lacquette is on the threshold of achieving her wildest dream.
The University of Minnesota Duluth sophomore defenseman who has most recently played for Canada’s national under-22 team, has been named to Canada’s 27-player roster that will prepare for the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi.
“When I got the call, all I could say was ‘thanks’,” said Lacquette via cell phone from Duluth as she walked to school earlier this week. “I’ve worked so hard all these years and in one phone call it just all came together. All I could say to Coach was ‘Thanks.’”
Lacquette will join the 22 players on the Team Canada roster that finished second at the recent World Championships along with four other newcomers – defenseman Tara Watchorn from Newcastle, Ont., and forwards Vicki Bendus from Wasaga Beach, Ont., Melodie Daoust from Valleyfield, Que., and Winnipeg’s Jenelle Kohanchuk who played at Boston University this season.
Should both Lacquette and Kohanchuk make the team – and veterans Jocelyne Larocque and Bailey Bram keep their jobs – there is a chance that four Manitobans could play for Team Canada at the 2014 Sochi Games.
“I’m excited to get to work preparing for Sochi with this group of talented athletes,” said Canada’s National Women’s Team head coach Dan Church in a written statement that accompanied the Hockey Canada announcement. “As a coaching staff, we are looking forward to the challenges that lay ahead and working with the players and staff to put together the best team for the Olympics.”
So is Lacquette who has informed UMD head coach Shannon Miller – who is also the former head coach of Canada’s Olympic women’s team and is now the head coach of Russia’s Olympic women’s team – that she will take the 2013-14 year off school to train with Team Canada for the Games.
“School is very important to me and that’s why I’m in spring session now,” she said. “I have a double major and one of them is nearly complete. So I’m putting myself in the best possible position to take next year off to train with Team Canada.
“It’s also good for me because it means I won’t lose a year of eligibility and so my junior year will be the 2014-15 season.”
Lacquette, who was born in Dauphin, will turn 21 just before the Olympics and should she make the final roster, will be one of the youngest players on the team. Miller is one person who believes Lacquette will not only make the team but star for Canada.
“Brigette is THE most naturally talented player ever to come through the UMD women’s hockey program,” said Miller bluntly. “We’ve had a program for 14 years and we’ve had 22 players make their respective Olympic teams (there are three UMD grads on the current Team Canada roster – Larocque, Haley Irwin and Caroline Ouelette) . So it’s a really big deal to make a statement like that about one young woman, but she truly is the most naturally talented player ever to come through our program.”
One of the top players in NCAA women’s hockey, Lacquette is living proof that “you can get there from here.” Wherever “here” happens to be.
Born in Dauphin and raised in tiny Mallard, Man., her father Terance is a Metis, who has lived in Mallard all his life. His wife, Anita, who has treaty status, is from Cote First Nation in Saskatchewan. For years, Terance drove the school bus while Anita taught school. His children, Tara, the oldest and the goaltender on the women’s team at the University of Calgary, 19-year-old Brigette and 16-year-old son, Taran, who plays in the Manitoba Triple A Midget Hockey League for the Parkland Rangers, are all exceptionally talented hockey players.
In fact, dad has spent the last 21 years of his life using hockey in order to give his children a better chance than he ever had. You can say whatever you want about hockey parents, and believe me, Terance is a full-out hockey parent, but his tireless effort on behalf of his kids has opened doors and given them all a chance to be successful.
“It can be tough in these small communities,” said Terance, who moved the family to Dauphin when son Taran started playing Triple A midget and he became Parkland Rangers’ head coach Doug Headley’s assistant. “There isn’t a lot to do. Many girls around Mallard and Waterhen who are Tara or Brigette’s age already have babies.
“And remember, Waterhen is where the post office is. The kids grew up in Mallard. It’s 10 kilometres north of Waterhen, right on Lake Waterhen. We were nowhere. Our community had about 80 adults, 40 kids, 20 dogs and 15 cats. I was down at the end of a gravel road. It’s beautiful. There is nothing more beautiful than sunset over the lake. But you couldn’t find us on a map.
“Anita and I decided that we would do everything we could to give the girls a life, a chance to make something of themselves. We always believed that by pushing them in school, making them study, and driving them everywhere to play hockey, we were doing the right thing. It’s paid off and we’re very proud of all three of our kids.”
While all three are terrific players, Brigette has achieved the most success. A great skater, she got one tip from her father that set her apart from all the other girls.
“Not many girls my age can move the puck quickly with their head up,” she said back when she was 16. “My dad always told me to learn to handle the puck with my head up. When I played boys midget hockey, I knew it was the most important thing I could do. If I had my head down in boys hockey, I’d get killed.”
Brigette first took to the ice at age 5 and she hasn’t stopped since. In fact, there are scouts in this country who say she might just be the best young player in the history of Canadian women’s hockey.
“Brigette is doing really, really well,” said her father. “She loves Minnesota Duluth and because she went there, she’s still a big part of the national team program. I believe that this is the year she steps up to the Olympic team.
“I’m just grateful for everything she’s accomplished. She’s proof that if you work hard, you can accomplish anything.”
Brigette herself will tell you she still has one big step to take. She has graduated from Hockey Canada’s under-18 program to the under-22 program and now to the main Olympic program, but there are still 27 players on the roster and there is no guarantee she will get to Sochi.
In preparation, the team will play at the 2013 Four Nations Cup in Lake Placid, N.Y., in November, will then play a series of games against the United States between August and December and close to 30 games against Midget AAA boys’ teams from the Alberta Midget Hockey League. There is still a lot of training left, even for a woman who was called the best female defenseman in the World at the Under-18 World Championship in Chicago.
“We have boot camp coming up in the next two weeks and then we’ll all come to together on Aug. 1 for two weeks,” she explained. “After a couple of weeks of that, there will be first cuts. If I make those cuts, I’ll stay with the team until December when the final cuts will be made. I’m not there yet but this is as close as I’ve ever been.”