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FEATURE: Like Father, Like Daughter

Cassandra Vilgrain picked up more than her father's hockey skills, she picked up her drive to help grow the game through diversity and representation

by Catherine Bogart catherinebogart /

The saying 'like father like daughter' can go with a lot of things in Cassandra Vilgrain's life: her jersey number throughout her hockey career, her focus on growing the sport, and her perseverance. However, her dad Claude, a former professional hockey player, wasn't the driving factor for Cassandra to lace up skates in the first place.

Video: BLACK HISTORY | Cassandra Vilgrain's Story

"I was doing a lot of different sports [growing up]. I was actually heavily figure skating, my mom was a competitive figure skater as well," said Vilgrain on her youth sports days. "I like to bug my dad and tell people that I got my skating gene from her."

"But it was the 2002 Olympics and basically, I saw it and I saw these women playing and I was like, I had no idea that this was a possibility. And I went to my dad and was like, I need to play."

Watching her national team win Gold at the 2002 Winter Olympics led to a professional hockey career for Vilgrain. With stops in the United States and Canada for college hockey, and one year abroad in Sweden, Vilgrain was first sparked by the representation of the women's game on the international stage.

"When you start seeing people that look like you in positions that you thought were never possible for you because you never had seen it before, then your journey starts to shift," Vilgrain said on the importance of representation. "Then you see something that's attainable for you."

Vilgrain has seen the impacts of representation with diversity in hockey throughout the last decade as well.

Video: BLACK HISTORY | Vilgrain Reflects on Career

"You're seeing these predominant players playing in the NHL that are big names, and now you're seeing it more throughout women's hockey as well," said Vilgrain. "You have players like Sarah Nurse who have done so much for the game."

Nurse, a Canadian National Team member, recently had a Tim Horton's Barbie release, and Vilgrain was particularly moved when she saw it for the first time.

"It's a Black girl wearing a hockey jersey and it's a doll that girls can get. I got pretty emotional when I saw it for the first time because I couldn't even imagine if I saw something like that when I was little. A girl that looks like me that's playing at such a high level."

Vilgrain's father was the first Haitian-born player in the NHL and one of the first Black players in the Devils franchise. As Nurse is a role model for girls in the sport, Cassandra's father was the same for many NHL players.

"I've always been proud of my dad and even in the recent couple of years just really seeing it come to light how much of an impact that he really had on other people. It makes me incredibly proud," said Vilgrain. "To be his daughter and know that there are opportunities beyond actually playing the sport and being a role model and giving back. I think that's something that I've instilled into my own life as well."

Vilgrain has stayed involved in the sport following her professional career primarily through coaching and education.

"I enjoy going back to the programs that I was at before and telling my story and talking about my experience," Vilgrain said. "We have a Hockey Alberta program here, so I like to give back to that and coach and appear on some panels."

Like father, like daughter, Vilgrain is growing the game and inspiring others like her father did years before.

"Just being who I am and being a role model and showing that if you look like me, if you've had my journey, then you have all the opportunities in the world to go far, whether it's in hockey or beyond."

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