It’s been more than a year since Canadian fans last saw Marie-Philip Poulin don the Canadian jersey.
Now one of the best players in women’s hockey is ready to hit the ice again.
Poulin and the rest of her Canadian teammates are preparing for the upcoming 2021 IIHF Women’s World Hockey Championship in Halifax and Truro, N.S. Canada kicks off the tournament May 6 against Finland at Scotiabank Centre in Halifax. All of Canada’s games can be seen live on TSN.
Last year’s women’s worlds was cancelled because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Canadian women last played together in February 2020 in the Rivalry Series against the United States.
“We’re so excited. It’s been a long time coming,” Poulin told TSN. “Last year, getting it cancelled, not having a season at all, not playing games – it’s been a while, for sure. We’re so lucky that it’s in Canada, on the East Coast. For us, being back there, having that maple leaf on your chest, being able to represent Canada – there’s no better feeling.”
It’s been an especially long road back for Poulin, who has dealt with numerous injuries over the past few years. She missed the first two games of the 2019 championship with a knee injury.
She attempted to play in Canada’s third preliminary round game against Russia, but she took a hit in the first period that aggravated the injury, ending her tournament after just four minutes and 44 seconds of ice time.
“I knew I was pushing it,” she said. “I was ready, but I don’t think I was fully ready. When that little clip happened, I knew I was done. I knew when it happened right away. It didn’t feel right…. It was not easy mentally, physically either. But that’s how you learn.”
The Canadian captain, who has 21 goals and 47 points in 35 games over seven women’s worlds tournaments prior to 2019, was relegated to the role of spectator as her team was upset by Finland in the semifinals. Canada did beat Russia to earn bronze, but it was still the country’s worst-ever finish at the event.
“It was not easy. You want to be part of that moment,” she said. “The world championship is our Stanley Cup, year after year. When you’re not part of it, it’s hard. You wear that logo on your heart. You want to be out there every time. It was not fun, but it’s part of it. Adversity makes you the person you are today.”
“Having her back in the lineup is crucial for our success here moving forward,” Gina Kingsbury, the director of Canada’s women’s national team, told TSN. “Her leadership and the leadership group is essential to our success, and having her healthy and all our athletes healthy is something that’s a priority for us here moving forward, and hopefully will benefit us in the end.”
Poulin also missed time in the 2019-2020 Rivalry Series with an undisclosed injury. She was preparing for the 2020 women’s worlds when the pandemic hit. Not only was the tournament cancelled, but training became difficult, especially finding time on the ice.
“It was hard at first. Obviously you want to be on the ice every day,” she said.
But the unexpected layoff did provide a silver lining for Poulin.
“To be honest, it was nice for me personally to take a little time off,” she said. “I think from the knee injury, taking that time off and actually taking care of it, adjusting your training, you can’t be in the weight room as much as you want. You’re in your apartment doing different things, doing more yoga – I think it was a nice thing in a way. I had the chance to take care of myself.”
Poulin is a member of Team Bauer in the Montreal region of the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association, an organization dedicated to forming a viable women’s pro league in North America. While some showcase games involving American-based PWHPA teams have been able to take place over the past few months, the squads in Montreal, Toronto and Calgary have not been able to play due to government restrictions.
“It makes you realize how much you miss it, when you don’t play as much as you want. It’s a great reminder of why you’re doing all of this – because you love the game so much,” she said.
Although Poulin has not seen much competitive game action, she has at least been able to hit the ice.
“In Montreal, we’re lucky enough. We had an exemption from the government of Québec where we were able to skate as a group here,” she said. “We’ve been very lucky here. Some groups in Toronto, Calgary have been a little harder.”
At this year’s women’s worlds, Poulin and Canada will be looking to end the country’s gold-medal drought, which is almost at the decade-mark. The Canadians last took home the top prize in 2012, with the Americans winning the last five consecutive tournaments.
The United States are also the most recent Olympic champions, winning gold at the 2018 PyeongChang Games.
Canada has also lost eight straight games to the U.S. at the worlds, and their North American rivals won four of the five games at the 2019-2020 Rivalry Series.
“We’ve been struggling a little bit. We’re all aware of that,” Poulin said. “We’re not first right now in the world. We all know that. For us, it’s going to be a statement at the world championship for us to go one game at a time, put our best product on the ice and be ready. I think the pressure is going to be there, but we’ve got to take that pressure and turn it into motivation and go for it.”