“When women first entered the Hall of Fame in 2010, I was so excited to see that finally the (female) sport was being recognized at that level,” St-Pierre gushed of Canadian women’s hockey legend Angela James and American equivalent Cammi Granato, who were those first two female players to smash through that massive gender barrier.
Since then, Canadian-Irish firecracker forward Geraldine Heaney, American superstar Angela Ruggiero, Canadian long-time national team player and coach Danielle Goyette, the incomparable Canadian forward Jayna Hefford, and most recently, six-time Olympian and seven-time world champion Hayley Wickenheiser, have all been inducted alongside the best of the best in the game, regardless of gender, in the Hockey Hall of Fame based in Toronto, Ont.
“Then there is France St-Louis and Cassie Campbell and Vicky Sunohara,” St-Pierre said of three other key long-time Canada’s National Women’s Team players, “and all of these women; what these amazing women did when nobody was watching. I think that’s the key to our success today.”
She may point out and thank many of her mentors and teammates first, but St-Pierre is just as much a part of the success women’s hockey is now seeing on the global stage as that of her skilled and talented on-ice predecessors. St-Pierre, though humble as always, is also smashing her own major gender barrier – becoming the first female goaltender to be named to the Hockey Hall of Fame.
“It’s crazy; I still can’t believe, it,” the 41-year-old married mother of two said over the phone from Ville Saint-Laurent, a borough in Montreal, reached some time after getting the official call. “Now that I’m able to join this select group, it’s a huge honour.”
St-Pierre has been facing a string of media requests over the past couple of weeks, yet still doesn’t seem quite over the shock of getting that actual phone from Hockey Hall of Fame Chairman Lanny McDonald on June 24. “When Lanny talked to me, it was like time stopped,” she said. “You just don’t know what’s happening really and when he said I was the first (female) goalie I was like, ‘Oh My God, I never thought about that!’ ”
“It’s such a big privilege to be the first goalie; there are so many amazing ones,” said a still surprised-sounding St-Pierre, who never would have had her history-making entrance into the Hockey Hall of Fame in her line of vision as the only girl playing boys’ hockey while growing up in Chateauguay, Quebec. In fact, she “didn’t even really know that women’s hockey was something” until she was about 14 years old.
“It was never easy to be the only girl,” St-Pierre said. “The other team, they always want to find a way to get into your head and (the boys) don’t like losing to a girl, but for me, I think it was my motivation. Every day, even with my own team, I wanted to show that I was the best.”
“My first year, I was a player and right away at the beginning of my second year, I decided to become a goalie,” St-Pierre recalled. “The coach brought some equipment for a practice, said they were looking for a goalie, and I jumped into the equipment right away. Nothing was appealing – it was all brown equipment back then – but I don’t know, I was fascinated.”
Although she was shut out big time in her first game between the pipes, and admits to even shedding a few tears. But St-Pierre did what she has done through her entire hockey career – she persisted. She kept lugging that extra big hockey bag around, putting on those ugly brown pads, and eventually, started winning games “and getting better and better.”
As a youngster, she was also an active swimmer, tennis player, soccer player and fastball player, but hockey always had St-Pierre’s heart, and her parents, Andre and Louise, always backed their netminder daughter up, of course attending all three Olympics to cheer her on.
Future Team Canada teammate Caroline Ouellette, a fellow Montreal native who she played Team Quebec fastball with, was invited alongside St-Pierre to join some of the more elite women’s hockey players from Quebec, including Nancy Drolet, Goyette and St-Louis. “It was all new to me, and to see what they had done, and their work ethic, and to be on the ice with them, I was like, ‘Wow, this is so impressive!’ So they led the way for us in Quebec.”
So St-Pierre tried out for Team Quebec, but got cut three straight times. Once again, she persisted, finally making a provincial squad on her fourth try. “It was not easy; I think it was maybe the transition from boys’ hockey to girls’ hockey … but it probably made me stronger having to deal with setbacks.”
It wasn’t until a then 19-year-old St-Pierre started attending McGill University in Montreal, where she protected the crease for the women’s varsity Martlets – her first time ever playing exclusively with and against women on the ice – that Team Canada coach Daniele Sauvageau caught her eye on the ice and invited her to a national team camp.
“I think it’s an example of never giving up,” St-Pierre said. “You never know. You only need one person to believe in you to give you a chance.” For her, that was Sauvageau.
St-Pierre describes her first Team Canada experiences as being “so overwhelming and intimidating to be with the national team,” even admitting to eavesdropping on veteran Cassie Campbell’s media interviews because “she was a great leader and helped me feel welcome. So I was always trying to listen and repeat what she was saying.”
“There was Vicky Sunohara, as well, and Therese Brisson; all these players made it a great place to be,” she said. “I was one of the youngest when I started, but right away we felt like we were welcome on the team.”
Nevertheless, St-Pierre snagged the starting goaltender spot for the IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championships from 2001 through 2008, as well as at the 2002 Olympic Winter Games in Salt Lake City, USA, where her incredible 25-save game performance helped Canada edge the Americans 3-2 and win the country’s first-ever women’s hockey Olympic gold medal. The hard-fought for Canadian win came after eight straight losses to the Americans in exhibition games that season and a heart-breaking loss to the United States in the gold medal match-up at the 1998 Olympic Winter Games in Nagano, Japan, where women’s hockey made its debut.
“The 2002 Olympics, being my first, you know how special it is,” St-Pierre said of one of her favourite hockey moments, “and growing up, it was my dream to go. And the opening ceremonies. And then that season, losing all those times against the Americans and finally winning that gold medal.”
St-Pierre also went on to win gold medals at the 2006 Olympic Winter Games in Turin, Italy and 2010 Olympic Winter Games on home ice in Vancouver.
“Having the chance to be in the Olympics in Canada,” St-Pierre said of another special memory. “And even if I didn't get the call for the gold medal game, to see what (Shannon) Szabados did that day being a young goalie... and winning the game 2-0 for us... that was an amazing moment.”
St-Pierre was also blown-away by the then 18-year-old Marie Philip-Poulin’s performance in Vancouver. Then the youngest player on Team Canada but now a seasoned 29-year-old veteran with two Olympic gold medals and one silver medal to her name, Poulin garnered five goals and two assists at her first 2010 event, including both of those two lone goals of that final game against the U.S.
St-Pierre is quick to compliment and thank her former teammates and Ouellette points to yet another “testament to her character, to her kindness.”
“She let Charline Labonte, our good friend, play in the third period of the game against Sweden,” Ouellette shared of St-Pierre’s decision to give her friend the final frame in nets. “And if she didn’t do that, well, Charlie would not have played in Vancouver, and her family and friend were there, so to me that says it all right there – how generous and kind she is.”
As for St-Pierre’s perspective, “the goalie position is a hard one and it’s the best one when you get to play in the big games. I think as a goalie group we did our best. Every day was a challenge but we did our best to keep a good attitude.”
“We all worked hard but we were very respectful,” she said, “so that probably made me the goalie I am today.”
“As far as on ice, I think she was one of the very best in the world, (of) men and women goalies, that ever played the game,” added Ouellette, who also played with her on the Stars. “And what made her so special is that she had extraordinary confidence, but she was never cocky. It was like the feeling that when you played in front of her, nothing was going to go in.
“And even when she gave a goal, it never showed if it bothered her,” Ouellette said, “she was always so calm and composed.”
“There are so many games in my career, whether with Team Canada or Montreal that we won because Kim was the best player,” Ouellette said, including the 2001 world championship final and 2002 Olympic gold medal game. “She was the goalie any team would want to have. Everyone loves Kim.”
St-Pierre, who’d likely blush over Ouellette’s comments, said it’s been nice to hear from former coaches and teammates who have been reaching out to congratulate her over the past couple of weeks. She said Ouellette, or Caro as she is known by teammates, “had a huge impact on my career.”
“It’s all because of the women before us that I am able to go through this. That is why I am so grateful to be part of the women’s game; that I didn’t know existed before,” St-Pierre said with a chuckle.
“Yes, there’s so many gold medals and championships but once this is all over, it’s all about who your best friends are, and who you can hang out with, and all these memories.”