BROSSARD - Always on the lookout for new and exciting ventures, the Canadiens Hockey School put an emphasis on its female clientele over the last few days.
Weeks after celebrating its 10th anniversary, the Canadiens Hockey School decided to further extend its involvement in Quebec's minor hockey scene. This year, organizers built on the relationship the team had established with the CWHL's Les Canadiennes de Montréal last season, placing a special emphasis on helping young girls hone their skills in a camp all their own.
"This summer, we challenged ourselves. We wanted to increase the number of girls signing up for the camp, hoping to get more and more of them involved in hockey. With that in mind, we decided to dedicate an entire week of camp just for them," said Canadiens youth hockey development manager, Stephane Verret. "We wanted to involve our partners, Les Canadiennes de Montréal. We also have a lot of girls on our staff, so we already had a good structure in place. It made sense to do it."
That partnership with the Canadiens meant that the 40 youngsters in attendance could count on receiving the advice and guidance of athletes they could aspire to be like down the road. Members of the 2016 Clarkson Cup finalists paid the girls a visit at the Bell Sports Complex in Brossard all week long to share their knowledge with them and inspire them to pursue their dreams.
"It's really important for these young girls to have opportunities to meet women playing at the professional level. It allows them to dream. With the help of the Canadiens and Les Canadiennes, we're doing a good job of that," mentioned Les Canadiennes forward, Emmanuelle Blais. "It seemed like they really enjoyed themselves out there on the ice. They had really good coaches. It was good for them. When I was younger, there weren't that many hockey camps for girls. It was still in the development stage.
"I went to France St-Louis' camp. She's one of the pioneers of women's hockey. Caroline Ouellette was one of my coaches back then," added Blais, who will begin her seventh CWHL campaign in the fall. "She was around 22 and I was 10. I was paying close attention to her advice. It's funny to say that she's my teammate now."
Welcoming young girls from Quebec and other parts of Canada, campers took part in on-ice sessions and off-ice instruction seminars, and they were also privy to a few surprise visits from Canadiens players, including Alex Galchenyuk , Alexander Radulov and Nikita Scherbak. While they certainly appreciated meeting some of their NHL idols, the presence of Les Canadiennes players at the inaugural camp afforded them a unique chance to see that they too could one day play in pros, just like their male counterparts.
"The girls from Les Canadiennes are such professionnals, in every aspect of the word - in their participation, their involvement, you see the passion that they're passing along to the girls. That's what we like to see," said Verret. "The primary goal here is that we're hoping the kids have fun. We saw that. They enjoyed themselves. We're hoping to keep this experience going for many years to come."
For her part, Blais feels exactly the same way.
"I loved my experience. Everyone was smiling. It was fun and it was easy for me to interact with the girls. They were very happy to be there," concluded Blais. "I answered their questions and they were very attentive to everything I was saying. The future of women's hockey is in good hands."