Pounder on what makes Daoust so lethal, what she needs to do to re-establish her force for Team Canada
Many people have struggled to keep busy during the COVID-19 pandemic. That has not been an issue for Mélodie Daoust, forward for Canada’s women’s hockey team.
Along with keeping up her training as a professional athlete, Daoust is a part-time coach with the University of Montreal women’s hockey team, an NHL analyst on French Canadian television, and a mother to her almost three-year-old son, Mathéo.
“Some of my teammates often make fun of me because I’m always on the go, but I think that’s in my personality,” Daoust told TSN. “I love being active. I love to be busy. When you do what you love, to be honest, for me it doesn’t sound like a job.”
Daoust is currently in camp with Canada in Halifax for the 2021 IIHF Women’s World Championship, which opens next month. The tournament begins for the Canadians on May 6, when they face Finland at Scotiabank Centre in Halifax. All of Canada’s games can be seen live on TSN.
It has been a long wait for Daoust and her teammates. Last year’s edition of the tournament was cancelled due to COVID-19, and Canada hasn’t played together since February 2020, when they wrapped up the Rivalry Series against the United States.
“I’m so excited. We haven’t played a competition game in so long,” said Daoust. “Going into a world championship, I think for us with Team Canada it’s been a long year. There’s lots of restrictions here for us, so I think we’re just trying to manage it and be prepared as much as we can leading up to the world championship.”
Daoust, a native of Valleyfield, Que., trains regularly with several of her teammates in Montreal, where the group has been able to hit the ice at Centre 21.02, a high-performance hockey facility run by former national team coach, Danièle Sauvageau.
“I think we’ve been a very lucky group,” said Daoust. “There’s about 16 of us training together every day, but obviously it’s not the same reality for the girls in Calgary and in Toronto, depending on the restrictions.
“We’ve been trying to do the best that we can. Obviously we’ve had some meetings over Zoom pretty much every two weeks, just to keep everyone in the loop, trying to figure out the systems that we’re not able to practice as much as we would like. But I think we’ve done a terrific job at staying in shape. Doing the fitness testing, we’ve got the best results of, I think, the past 10 years, so that shows a lot of character from our group.”
Next month’s tournament will be Daoust’s second career women’s worlds. She made her world championship debut in 2019, where Canada was upset by Finland in the semifinals and wound up with bronze, the team’s worst-ever finish at a major tournament.
It was also a disappointing competition for Daoust in terms of individual stats. After winning MVP honours at the 2018 Olympics with seven points in five games, Daoust finished with four assists and no goals in seven games at the 2019 world championship.
But there has been a lot of changes since that tournament, including a new head coach, Troy Ryan, who took over the position in January 2020.
“I think we’ve done an amazing change in our program,” said Daoust. “I think about the culture, I think about the coaching staff, and that’s a big part of it. Now we have Troy Ryan leading us up, and I think that is one of the best changes we have had in our program.
“I can only speak highly of Troy. He’s such a good man. He’s such a good coach, but he also cares about all the players. I think that makes a big difference in our program. We can see the team is just gelling together off the ice and that’s been amazing to be a part of.”
Daoust’s world championship debut in 2019 was a milestone roughly five years in the making. At 22, she was the youngest player on the Canadian team that won gold at the 2014 Olympics. But just four months after reaching the top of the podium, she tore her ACL and missed most of her season with McGill.
She was left off the roster for subsequent women’s worlds and had to fight her way back into the mix for the 2018 Olympics.
Despite the hardships, Daoust reflects on the adversity with an optimistic outlook.
“I learned so much. I think my entire career is based on ups and downs. That was pretty much the lowest I’ve been,” Daoust said. “I think it has taught me that no matter what happens to you, you can always come back. That’s something I learned, also to be a good teammate at that time. I couldn’t be on the ice with them, but I could watch. I could get my game better at that level from watching every single practice and games from the stands.
“I think that gave me the coaching side of it, and I was really fortunate to still be able to watch my teammates and get close to them.”
Daoust is now part of a core leadership group with Canada, along with team captain and good friend, Marie-Philip Poulin. Daoust, 29, recognizes how much her role has changed since 2014.
“I’m now a veteran on the team, getting older, and I love being a part of this team so much,” she said. “I think I’m a pretty easygoing person. I don’t like to be too focused off the ice, so making sure I keep the room light, that’s pretty much my [leadership] style. But as a leader, I also like to show what to do by example, so not so much of a vocal leader, but more of an action kind of leader.”
Daoust’s experience as a mentor has also led to her position as an assistant coach with the University of Montreal Carabins.
“I studied at McGill to be a Phys Ed. teacher, and I always loved the part of teaching somebody else how to stay active, or just certain skills,” said Daoust. “I think that’s the same thing with coaching. I love to give back to the next generation.
“I’ve been in their shoes, so I know what they’re going through. They have to juggle school and personal life and being an athlete at the university. It’s never easy, but I think my perspective on that is that I can help them on and off the ice.”
Daoust has become an expert when it comes to juggling different roles. Last December, she joined TVA Sports as an NHL analyst.
“That came out of left [field], that’s for sure,” she said. “I didn’t think I would be doing that so soon in my career. The opportunity just showed up and I could not turn it down. Obviously if you ask me to talk about hockey, I can do that all day.”
Next month not only features the women’s worlds, but Mathéo, Daoust’s son with her partner, Audrey St-Germain, turns three.
Working moms in the realm of professional sports is becoming less of a novelty, and it’s a movement towards normalcy that Daoust wants to see happen.
“I think it’s so important. We’re in 2021, we’ve got to make space for that to happen… I think it’s really important to show the world that it’s possible to do both at the same time,” she said.
“My son is what brings me joy every single day. I think that’s why I love hockey even more now, because I can show him the passion that I have for hockey, for staying active. If I can teach him those qualities in life, I think he’s going to be a pretty successful little boy.”
Mathéo will be able to watch his mom’s passion for the game at next month’s world championship, where she’ll try to help Canada reclaim gold for the first time since 2012.
Beyond that, the 2022 Olympics are less than a year away, and the Canadian women are also looking to regain the top of that podium after losing to the United States in a shootout in the 2018 PyeongChang Games.
But if Daoust’s roller coaster of a career has taught her one thing, it’s to never look too far ahead.
“You need to look at life one day at a time. That’s big for me,” she said. “I never try to look too much in advance because you never know what’s going to happen.
“So making sure you make the most out of it every single day and you have no regrets. ‘Be the best you can every day,’ is a motto that I’m trying to accomplish every day, look at myself in the mirror, asking myself, ‘Did I give everything today?’ And if the answer is yes, then I feel accomplished.”