Like any Canadian hockey player, Jocelyne Larocque detests losing to the Americans. The 28-year-old defender was an integral part of her national team’s blue line at the recent 4 Nations Cup contested in Finland, a tournament in which Canada fell short 5-3 to the United States in the final game.
“I think for myself, I was happy with how I played. I worked hard,” Larocque said when asked to assess her effort. “I tried to keep it simple and played tough against the Americans. It’s always a fun opportunity to play against them. It’s always fast-paced and it’s an intense rivalry, so it’s a lot of fun.”
Certainly Larocque is no stranger to the preeminent international rivalry in women’s hockey. The pinnacle of her success came in 2014 at the Bolshoy Ice Dome in Sochi, Russia when she and her teammates gleefully claimed the gold medal at the Winter Olympics, the fourth consecutive triumph for Canada at the Games.
Larocque also won a Women’s World Championship gold medal in 2012 when Canada won an overtime thriller, much to the disappointment of the host nation’s fans in Burlington, Vermont. Conversely, Larocque has had to settle for a silver medal at the tournament on four occasions, grudgingly enduring the playing of “The Star-Spangled Banner” instead of “O Canada” each time, most recently last spring on home ice in Kamloops, British Columbia.
With the XXIII Olympic Winter Games in PyeongChang, Korea just over one year away, Larocque aspires to defend her country’s reign atop the podium. But with Canada having an abundance of blue line talent – especially in the Canadian Women’s Hockey League in which Larocque captains her club team, the Brampton Thunder – the rugged rearguard knows full well that her place on the team hasn’t yet been guaranteed.
“Definitely you can never feel complacent,” she said. “Coming from such a strong country, it’s never a feeling I’ve ever felt, because I always know that there are people vying for my spot. I continuously keep that fire, keep that drive and work hard every day and make sure that I have no regrets. Whether or not I make it, as long as I leave the tryout knowing I have no regrets, I’ll be happy.”
Larocque’s passion for the game was instilled at an early age during the player’s upbringing in the rural community of Ste. Anne, Manitoba. At just three years old, Larocque was inspired by her sister Chantal, 18 months her senior, to pick up a stick and lace up the skates.
“Coming from a small town there wasn’t a lot to do. We had an outdoor rink in our backyard, and my older sister played hockey and I looked up to her a lot,” Larocque said. “Growing up I always looked up to her, and she was someone that pushed me and drove me to be better every day. I got a lot of opportunities to play with her, and she was my idol growing up, and my mentor. I wouldn’t be where I am today without her.”
Larocque became a member of Canada’s national program in 2008 and enjoyed a productive college career at the University of Minnesota Duluth. She not only won a pair of NCAA championships, but also became the school’s only two-time First Team All-American defenceman. In her senior year, 2010/11, she was a nominee for the Patty Kazmaier Award as the top player in NCAA Division I women’s ice hockey.
One of her assistant coaches during her tenure with the Bulldogs was current Team Canada women’s head coach Laura Schuler. Larocque has enjoyed being a pupil under Schuler’s guidance over the years, but was also quick to downplay any potential advantage that she might gain from her familiarity with her mentor.
“She’s very knowledgeable, so it’s fun to have been coached by her before,” Larocque said of her bench boss. “She’s so passionate. It’s nice to have people in those spots that care so much and do everything they can for the team. And that’s what she does as a coach.”
Larocque graduated from UMD with a bachelor’s degree in accounting and, in 2012, she was chosen by Alberta, sixth overall, at the CWHL Draft. Two years later, she was traded to Brampton in exchange for her childhood friend and national teammate Bailey Bram.
“We grew up together,” Larocque said of her fellow 2012 IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship gold medallist and Ste. Anne native. “Her dad was my coach, we played together a lot, I played with her brothers. Her parents would babysit me. Growing up, I would always see where she was, how her seasons were going, we’d always hang out. To have her as a teammate is really special because she’s one of my closest friends.”
At the Sochi Olympics, Larocque paired with Meaghan Mikkelson to form an effective shutdown duo. Canada capitalized on its chance to win the gold-medal game versus the United States in overtime after its competitive life was miraculously salvaged by the width of a goal post in the dying moments of regulation.
With the expectations of the nation looming large once again, Larocque is eager for a return to glory. Her life is never far from the rink. Currently she owns a gym and coordinates hockey programs with adults and children, including kids who dream of following in her footsteps and someday wearing the maple leaf for their country.
On the ice, her competitive edge is an asset to her game on which she leverages, in the hopes of securing her plane ticket to Korea in 2018.
“I always play hard. I always try to play within the rules,” she said. “Sometimes I play along that line. I’m never trying to get a penalty, but I’m always trying to play hard and tough.”
ROB DEL MUNDO