Captain Clutch makes Canadian history
by Andrew Podnieks|09 DEC 2022
Marie-Philip Poulin celebrates with the Olympic gold medal in Beijing 2022.
photo: Andre Ringuette / HHOF-IIHF Images
Marie-Philip Poulin made more Canadian history on Wednesday when she was named winner of Canada’s prestigious Northern Star Award as Canada’s top athlete for 2022. The honour, formerly known as the Lou Marsh Award, is a long-standing benchmark of excellence that has been given annually since 1936, but despite the importance hockey has always had in Canadian culture, Poulin, a native of Beauceville, Quebec, becomes the first female hockey player to win. 

Hayley Wickenheiser never won it, nor did Angela James, Jayna Hefford, or the many other great women who have played the game over the last three decades.

And this year, the 31-year-old Poulin received more votes than Connor McDavid, Cale Makar, or Nathan MacKinnon in hockey, and more votes than the many other top candidates, including Felix Auger-Aliassime (tennis), Summer MacIntosh (swimming), Brooke Henderson (golf), and Brian McKeever (cross-country skiing paralympics).

“I’m overwhelmed,” Poulin said in a conference call soon after being notified. She has been Canada’s captain since 2015, taking over for the legendary Hayley Wickenheiser. “It’s quite amazing to be along these amazing athletes. But first and foremost is really thanking my teammates, my coaches, my family, the people who have been there since Day One. I obviously would not get here without any of them." 

Recognizing Poulin’s achievements, however, was a no-brainer. At the Beijing Olympics, Canada’s captain scored twice in the gold-medal game, including the winner, the third time she has done so in an unmatched level of clutch scoring. That also gave her goals in four Olympic gold-medal games, something no other hockey player has ever done. And she was second in tournament scoring with 17 points in seven games. 

Several months later, when the IIHF hosted a Women’s World Championship for the first time in an Olympic year, Poulin was again front and centre, captaining the team to its third major gold medal in a year. And now, she currently leads the PWHPA in scoring as the four teams set to descend on Ottawa for the league’s All-Star Game weekend, an event that promises to be its biggest and best ever.

In addition, this honour seems to acknowledge a lifetime of competitive success. Poulin represented Canada for the first time in 2008, and for the last 15 years has guided Canada to medals. Since making her debut in 2008 at the U18, Poulin has played in nine Women’s Worlds as well as four Olympics and two WW18 tournaments.

“You see the momentum,” Poulin said of the PWHPA’s increased schedule and support around North America. “You see more little boys and little girls coming to watch us. It takes your parents as well, to make sure that you take your kids to watch, us because we truly believe in, ‘You can see it; you can be it; you can dream it.’”

In addition to her sensational play on ice, Poulin was also hired by the Montreal Canadiens earlier this year as a part-time consultant for player development. “We’re taking steps to grow the game more,” she continued. “You see Sarah Nurse on the cover of EA, and people are talking about the women’s game, not just because of the Olympics.”

And if that weren’t enough, Poulin was also inducted into the Boston University Athletic Hall of Fame just last week, the first female hockey player so honoured.

"I can say with my whole heart that my time at BU was unforgettable because of the people in it and how they made me feel,” Poulin said. "This school, this hockey program, these people, changed my life forever. Once a Terrier, always a Terrier." 

Overall, Poulin is only the tenth hockey player to win the Northern Star/Lou Marsh award, following Wayne Gretzky (four times – 1982, 1983, 1985, 1989), Sidney Crosby (twice – 2007, 2009), Maurice Richard (1957), Bobby Orr (1970), Phil Esposito (1972), Bobby Clarke (1975), Guy Lafleur (1977, Mario Lemieux (1993), and Carey Price (2015). Her toughest hockey competition this year came from Colorado’s defender Makar, who won the Norris Trophy and Conn Smythe Trophy, and helped the Avs win the Stanley Cup. But all of that wasn’t enough to best Poulin, who doesn’t finish second very often.