Pierre-Luc Dubois was in the middle of a training session.
TVs perched throughout the gym typically show an endless loop of sporting highlights from the action from the night before.
On that August morning, however, the game was live.
And everyone was flocking to watch the Canadian women’s soccer team play in a thrilling and breathtaking Olympic final.
“I get goosebumps thinking about it,” Dubois, a Winnipeg Jets center, recalled last month during the NHL / NHLPA media tour. “I was supposed to do a set, but I was like, ‘Wait’.
“Everyone in the gym was just standing watching TV.”
Led by legendary captain Christine Sinclair, Canada beat Sweden in a spectacular shootout to win their first-ever gold at the event.
But the exploits of Sinclair, Jessie Fleming, Deanne Rose, Stephanie Labbé and Julia Grosso are just a few of the breathtaking performances of an unforgettable summer for Canadian female athletes.
And like the rest of the country, several of its NHL players have been captivated.
“Incredible,” said Ottawa Senators defenseman Thomas Chabot. “It’s fun to see people succeed. It always puts a smile on your face to watch them and see them perform at their best.
“It is special.”
Maggie Mac Neil and Penny Oleksiak led the charge early in the pool at the Tokyo Games as the women won Canada’s top 13 medals – and 18 of 24 overall. The country went on to win a spectacular gold medal at the Women’s World Hockey Championship thanks to the overtime marksmanship of Marie-Philip Poulin before teenage tennis sensation Leylah Fernandez came out of nowhere to advance to the final. of the US Open.
“I was sitting there watching (Fernandez) play and I was like, ‘Shit, it’s been a crazy year for the Canadians,’” said Colorado Avalanche defenseman Cale Makar. “It was very cool to see.”
Much like Dubois, Montreal Canadiens center Nick Suzuki was in the gym as the Olympic soccer drama unfolded.
“I pulled it out on my phone and there’s a dozen NHL guys watching,” he said. “And then we had to skate, so I brought it to the locker room and I was late for my skate.
“I couldn’t miss the cry.”
Dubois ranked the women’s soccer final just off Sidney Crosby’s golden goal at the Vancouver 2010 Olympics in the “Where were you when?” Category. Moment in the country’s sporting psyche.
“It’s at this level,” he said. “It’s definitely one of those moments that many Canadians will remember for the rest of their lives. “
Toronto Maple Leafs winger Mitch Marner said the effort to win Poulin’s gold on the ice will stay with him after training in the same gym as several national team players in the past. last two years.
“It had been about 18 or 19 months since they played a hockey game,” he said. “They are always happy to come to the gym, work hard and push each other.
“Watching them win gold and seeing the work really come into play was amazing. “
Edmonton Oilers defenseman Darnell Nurse – whose sister Kia is on the Canadian basketball team, while cousin Sarah is on the hockey roster – said the summer had shown the importance women’s sports for the country.
“I’m not saying everything is perfect,” he said. “There are still resources of equality and money that need to be more balanced between men’s and women’s sports, but it shows that we take (women’s sports) very seriously.”
“It was a summer for Canadian female athletes,” added Winnipeg Jets center Mark Scheifele. “You just hope that’s a marker for what’s to come.”
Hayley Wickenheiser, who helped Canada win four Olympic gold medals in women’s hockey, said she can’t wait to see where things go from here.
“Our Canadian women drove the bus,” said the Hockey Hall of Fame in a recent telephone interview. “Hopefully this will lead to things like more television coverage of women’s sport or more money going to professional female athletes. It’s awesome and everyone is excited, because it’s exciting. I hope there are tangible spinoffs that can propel women’s sport from these performances.
“This will be the next test, but it was great to watch.”
And while hockey remains her passion, Wickenheiser, who is both a physician and senior director of player development for the Leafs, said the soccer final will stay with her.
“I watched it in the (Toronto) dining room with a group of players,” she said. “We all screamed and screamed and jumped up and down like little school kids when they won.”
Dubois said he hopes the next generation of athletes – girls and boys – will be motivated by a summer to remember.
“When you win, you inspire new people, new athletes,” he said. “A single summer could potentially find a new Penny (Oleksiak), the new Christine Sinclair, the new Marie-Philip Poulin.
“It’s fantastic what they have done for the country.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published on October 4, 2021.
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Joshua Clipperton, The Canadian Press