And then there is Marie-Philip Poulin, the only North American to play the WW18 and WW in the same year. That was 2009, and in the years since, it has become clearer and clearer that she is the best female player on the planet.
Poulin first played an IIHF tournament the previous year, at that inaugural WW18 in Calgary, which also happens to be the scene of her most recent heroics at the 2021 Women’s Worlds. In that first tournament for the best players under 18, Poulin was 16 years old and led the tournament in goals (8) and points (14).
In her first game, she recorded a hat trick and five points in an 11-2 win over the Czechs, and she had another hatter against Finland before being given the IIHF Directorate Award Best Forward. But she was only just getting started.
A year later, she had at least one point in every game, including the game-winning goal against Finland at the WW18 in Germany in January. Just three months later she was back on the ice with the senior team at the Women’s Worlds in Hammenlinna, Finland. The 18-year-old had five points in as many games, and it was clear she belonged at the top level even though she had somehow bypassed the period of adjustment that every other player required.
A year later, Poulin was playing for Canada at the Olympics on home ice, in Vancouver, where she saved her best for last. While Canada cruised through its first four games, winning them all by a cumulative scored of 46-2, the U.S. awaited in the gold-medal game, desperate for victory, desperate to eradicate memories of 2006 when they failed to make it to the golden game.
Poulin saw an opportunity. For all her personal success so far in her young career, she had settled for silver at those first three tournaments. She was determined not to let that happen on the biggest stage, at home.
The Canada-U.S. final was watched by more than 10 million Canadians, the largest audience ever for a women’s sporting event on TV. At the back end, goalie Shannon Szabados was sensational, and up front it was all “Pou.”
Both teams had early power-play chances, but the game remained scoreless until Jennifer Botterill found Poulin in the slot with a pass midway through the opening period. The puck was on and off Poulin’s stick as quickly as it went in and out of the net over the glove of Jessie Vetter.
Less than three minutes later, Poulin did it again. This time, she won a faceoff in the U.S. end, and a quick shot by Meghan Agosta was blocked. Poulin got to the loose puck and snapped another quick shot in, this time under Vetter’s glove. That was all Canada needed, their 2-0 victory giving the nation its third straight Olympic gold.
On the international front, Canada won silver in 2011, gold in 2012, and silver again in 2013, as the U.S. program caught up to Canada thanks in large part to the development of players such as Stecklein, Coyne Schofield, and Hilary Knight. But on the biggest stage, Poulin again left her mark.
The North Americans breezed through their opponents to produce another Canada-United States gold-medal game for Olympic glory, and after three disappointing ends in 2002, 2006, and 2010, the Americans looked to have victory all wrapped up. For 55 minutes they were the better team and managed to contain Poulin and her teammates, building a solid and impenetrable 2-0 lead.
But then Brianne Jenner scored a fluky goal with 3:26 remaining, and Canada poured it on as time wound down, looking for that tying goal. And they found it, thanks to number 29. In the final minute, Szabados on the bench, Rebecca Johnston threw a desperate pass in front. Poulin got to the puck first and snapped a quick shot past Jessie Vetter (again), sending the game to overtime.
And once again, Poulin rose to the occasion. Canada earned a power play midway through the sudden-death fourth period, and as the players moved the puck around it was clear the idea was to put the puck on Poulin’s stick. Finally, Laura Fortino succeeded, and Poulin found the back of the net. Golden goal. Olympic gold. Again.
In 2015, Poulin returned home and played for Les Canadiennes de Montreal in the CWHL, and when she arrived at Team Canada’s camp to prepare for the 2015 Women’s Worlds in Malmo, Sweden, she found a “C” on her sweater, a “C” she has been wearing ever since. She was now 24 years old, young but veteran, a leader on a team with many players older than her.
By this time, the U.S. were in full flight, though, and they won four straight Women’s Worlds as well as Olympic gold in 2018. Incredibly, by the time the Canadians arrived in Calgary for the 2021 WW, it had been nine years since they had last captured gold at the tournament, losing six of seven events (excepting the Sochi Games).
Poulin was healthy, motivated, and ready to take charge. And, as usual, she saved her best for last. Again playing for gold, the U.S. jumped into a 2-0 lead after the first period, but Poulin set up Brianne Jenner for a goal early in the second to start the rally. The game went into overtime – 3-on-3, unlimited – and Poulin worked her magic, busting through centre ice, taking a pass from Jenner, her teammate since the 2008 WW18, and beating Nicole Hensley with a gorgeous shot off the crossbar and in. It was Poulin’s third-career gold-medal-winning goal, and it was a beauty.
So now, fans look forward to Beijing. Poulin is 30 years old and at the height of her powers. She is now surrounded by a core of young and hungry players, and the Americans are not too happy to have their streak come to an end. It all bodes well for another Olympic classic, but you know if Canada is in the mix, number 29 will be ready to rise to the occasion. And if she does, that will come as a surprise to no one.