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Canada's Poulin all smiles after her big night

by Bob Condor
VANCOUVER -- Before Team Canada's last two games here at the 2010 Olympics, Marie-Philip Poulin stuck around in warmups later than most of her teammates to give non-starting goalie Kim St-Pierre extra shots. Truth is, Poulin scored on most of those shots.
"Marie-Philip's always the last one to leave the ice after practice too," a happy St-Pierre said after Canada's 2-0 gold-medal win over archrival Team USA on Thursday. "She is always looking to work on her shot. She is always smiling. She never complains. It is really something special how the puck leaves her stick. You basically don't see it come off the blade. She is a good passer, too, but I have been telling her all year, 'Shoot the puck!'"
That advice was good as gold. Poulin scored on two fast-as-a-whip shots in a 2:55 span later in the first period, beating American goaltender Jessie Vetter, who was perfect otherwise and kept her team in the game with several stellar third-period saves.
Poulin, 18, is the youngest member of Canada's powerhouse team. Before hurtling herself into Olympics lore before a raucous capacity house at Canada Hockey Place, Poulin started drawing praise as "the Sidney Crosby of women's hockey" even before her 16th birthday. Perhaps as tellingly in this hockey-mad host country -- which now anticipates double-gold in the national religion, er, pastime -- Poulin has been a regular on TSN's sports highlight reels in recent years.
Canada coach Melody Davidson decided to offset the Sid hype during Poulin's first bite of the Olympics. After playing her for part of the season on Canada's first line, Davidson  designated Poulin the fourth-line center -- which on the deep gold-medal winner's roster means maybe a few less shifts but still plenty of playing time.
"Our goal here [for Poulin] was not to put any pressure on her and let her enjoy her first Olympics," Davidson said.
Check that off the list. Poulin was last seen back on the Vancouver ice, after finishing an extended media session, snapping photos and hugging with other teammates who wanted to linger at the victory scene just a while longer. She was wearing a red ballcap backwards and didn't stop smiling the entire time.
"Oh, I dreamed about winning a gold medal," Poulin admitted when asked the requisite question about what she might have considered a little girl growing up in Canada watching teammates like Jennifer Botterill, who assisted on the first goal, win at the 2002 and 2006 Olympics. "I just didn't think it would happen this fast."

"She is always looking to work on her shot. She is always smiling. She never complains. It is really something special how the puck leaves her stick. You basically don't see it come off the blade."
-- Kim St-Pierre

Veteran teammates were not so surprised by Poulin's fast rise to a coveted spot on Canada's roster.
"Her skill level pushes the rest of as older players," said Cherie Piper, no slouch in this tournament with 5 goals and 5 assists in five games.
When Poulin scored the opening goal at 13:55 of the first period, Piper said "it took the edge off" the pressure Team Canada's players were feeling. The second goal, at 16:50 on an assist from tourney MVP Meghan Agosta, allowed the Canadians some breathing space.
Poulin is from Beauceville, Quebec, a town of 7,000, but moved to Montreal this year to study at an English-language prep school.  She is headed for an American university in the fall. Harvard, Minnesota and Minnesota-Duluth reportedly are all recruiting her.
For now, the teenager who wears pearls, a gift from her mother, under her uniform, is happy to add another item to wear around her neck. College hockey and becoming the future face of Canada's women's team will just have to wait.

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