Dubbed “one of the greatest clutch performers this country has ever produced,” Canadian women’s hockey team captain Marie-Philip Poulin has been voted The Canadian Press female athlete of the year for 2022.
“It sure tops up the year. I think 2022, when I take a little time to myself and rethink it, it’s quite amazing, not only personally, but as a group,” Poulin told CP.
“A big thank you to people that voted, but this goes to the people around me, my teammates.”
The honour is the second such acknowledgement for Poulin this month. Poulin was also named winner of the Northern Star Award (formerly the Lou Marsh Trophy) as Canada’s top athlete of the year.
The 31-year-old forward from Beauceville, Que., this year became the only hockey player in the world, male or female, to score goals in four consecutive Olympic hockey finals.
Her two goals, including the eventual game-winner, drove Canada to a 3-2 win over archrival United States for gold Feb. 17 in Beijing’s Wukesong Arena.
With quick passing and shooting hands, peerless hockey sense and a sense of occasion, Poulin has produced seven goals in her four Olympic finals, including a late equalizer and an overtime winner in Sochi, Russia in 2014.
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She’s captained Canada to back-to-back world championships in 2021 and 2022 after a run of five straight titles by the U.S.
After scoring the OT winner in the 2021 world final in Calgary, Poulin had five goals and five assists in seven games in September when Canada defended its crown in Herning, Denmark.
“Poulin played a massive role on one of the most successful team performances in a long time,” said Victoria Times-Colonist sports editor Brian Drewry. “She led on and off the ice while thriving in the spotlight.”
The Canadian Press began recognizing male and female athletes of the year in 1932. CP’s male athlete of the year will be announced Thursday and the team of the year Friday.
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In finishing first in this year’s survey of sports editors and broadcasters across the country with 22 votes out of 48, Poulin was called “the ultimate big-game player.”
Swimmer Summer McIntosh ranked second among voters with 10.
Poulin is the second hockey player to be voted The Canadian Press female athlete of the year after Hayley Wickenheiser in 2007.
Poulin is also just the third woman in a team sport to earn the distinction following Wickenheiser and soccer player Christine Sinclair (2012, 2020).
Poulin is uncomfortable talking about herself, but provided some insight into why she executes when hockey stakes are high.
“Sometimes you ask yourself, ‘Why do you train so hard? Nobody is there, nobody is watching,’ but at the end of your life, it’s the work you put in when nobody is watching,” Poulin said.
“It’s that extra rep, extra mile just to maybe one day be ready when that big moment happens. That’s how I’ve been training my whole life. That extra rep, it doesn’t matter when it’s going to show, or when it’s going to matter, you know when those big moments happen, you’re ready.”
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Canadian women’s hockey team coach Troy Ryan concurs that Poulin prepares for pivotal situations every day of her hockey life.
“She treats really simple moments as pretty big moments,” Ryan said. “If she misses something in a typical rep in practice, you can see she’s not happy with herself. There’s hidden perfection in her.
“I’ll see a player come down the wing in a practice, a little bit lazy, lean on one foot and have a 75 per cent shot on goal. I’ve coached Poulin for five years and never seen her do it. I’ve never seen her half-ass a play.
“When you play with that mentality, why wouldn’t you want the puck on your stick at the end of a game?”
What’s less visible is Poulin’s captaincy style off the ice. The COVID-19 pandemic derailed the hockey lives of Canadian players for almost two years heading into Beijing.
Poulin is a driver of a team culture in which players are free to be who they are, and feel their contributions are valued, which translates into on-ice performance, Ryan said.
“She is pretty easy to follow. She does so many good things on the ice,” he said. “The stuff that she does off the ice, I don’t think a lot of people would really see.
“You look up to her as the player and the performer she is, and the work she puts into it on the ice, but then she has an ability to make you feel good about who you are off the ice.”
With 97 goals and 103 assists in 166 career games for Canada, Poulin ranks fifth all-time behind Wickenheiser, Jayna Hefford, Caroline Ouellette and Danielle Goyette.
Wickenheiser, Hefford and Goyette are in the Hockey Hall of Fame.
Poulin is among the women striving for a sustainable professional women’s hockey league. Her name gives the Professional Women’s Hockey Players’ Association (PWHPA) the star power to pursue it.
Outside of the national team, Poulin plays in showcase games and tournaments in the PWHPA’s Dream Gap Tour.
The NHL’s Montreal Canadiens also hired Poulin as a player development consultant this year.
“I can’t wait to see what 2023 has in store,” Poulin said.