Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Though her club was unable to register a victory, elite hockey player Jocelyne Larocque, was thrilled to be on the ice as part of a pro squad.
Larocque made history in 2014, becoming the first Indigenous player to suit up for the Canadian Olympic women’s team, which captured the gold medal at the Sochi Games in Russia.
Larocque, who is Métis and 35, plays defence, and is now a member of the Toronto squad in the Professional Women’s Hockey League (PWHL).
The six-team league held its first ever match on Jan. 1 at Toronto’s Mattamy Athletic Centre, the facility that is the old Maple Leaf Gardens.
Larocque and her Toronto teammates were blanked 4-0 by the visiting New York team in the New Year’s Day matinee.
“It was amazing to be a part of,” Larocque said. “This pro league is something that we fought really hard for and to now see it in full circle is amazing. And it’s amazing to be a part of. I’m just really looking forward to the season.”
Besides Toronto and New York, the inaugural season of the PWHL also includes franchises in Montreal, Ottawa, Boston and Minnesota.
For now, all of the league entrants are simply known by the cities they represent.
Larocque is a three-time Olympian. She was also a member of the Canadian team that captured the gold medal at the 2022 Beijing Olympics. And she returned home from the 2018 Pyeonechang Olympics with a silver medal.
Larocque, who was born in the Manitoba town of Ste. Anne, has represented Canada at 10 world championships. Her medal haul from those competitions includes three gold, six silver and one bronze.
Participating in the first PWHL regular season match though is now another career highlight for Larocque.
“It’s definitely on the top of the list,” she said. “And I’ve been fortunate enough to have played hockey for 30 years now. It’s definitely up there. And it felt pretty surreal seeing the sold-out crowd and just seeing everything happen today. Unfortunately, it’s not the result we wanted, but it’s still going to be one of the most special games that I’ve played in.”
The contest was played in front of 2,537 fans. Before the season started the Toronto squad announced that tickets for all of its home contests this season had been sold out.
“It’s amazing,” Larocque said. “And to see the support from Toronto has been great and I’m really looking forward to playing in front of a sold-out crowd the entire season. It’s pretty exciting.”
The PWHL is owned by American businessman Mark Walter. He also co-owns Major League Baseball’s Los Angeles Dodgers and the Chelsea Football Club from England’s Premier League.
The PWHL board includes tennis icon Billie Jean King. She was part of the ceremonial opening faceoff prior to the Toronto/New York match.
“She’s iconic,” Larocque said of King. “She’s someone that all of us look up to as a person and as a pro athlete. So, to have her support us as much as she has, it’s pretty surreal. And I feel pretty honoured to have an icon like her rooting for us and putting so much time and effort behind this is pretty spectacular.”
PWHL squads will play a 20-game regular season schedule. Larocque is confident her club will fare better than it did in its first match.
“We discussed it in the locker room,” she said. “And I’m sure we’re going to go through some video and practice. But a lot of it was just small details that can be fixed pretty quick. There was also a lot of good things, so I think it’s focusing on the good things and tweaking the things that you know we can change. We had a great discussion and I’m sure for tomorrow we’ll be working on certain things in practice and do some video sessions. Everything is just about learning.”
Toronto’s next game is set for this Friday, Jan. 5, against host New York.
Toronto head coach Troy Ryan is thrilled to have Larocque on his roster this season. She’s been named an assistant captain for the squad.
“She’s a great leader and a great player,” Ryan said following Monday’s loss. “She’s physical. She’s just a great character player for our team and we expect her to be that leader that she’s always been. We probably expect her to create some offence as well. I think she does have that in her game. And as she settles in, it will be evident for sure.”
Ryan doesn’t feel Larocque fully displayed what she is capable of in the season opener.
“If you talk to her, I think she can be better,” he said. “I think just like our whole team she probably played with a little bit of nerves, a little bit of jitters. But I thought she was pretty solid back there, probably our better D on the back end. But I think she can play better as well.”
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