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Marie-Philip Poulin: Captain Clutch

High-Stakes Player, Leader, and Role Model for the Game

by Michelle Crechiolo @PensInsideScoop / Penguins Team Reporter

The best player in the world.

A player who shines the brightest on the biggest stages and comes up clutch in high-stakes moments.

A player who has plenty of skill and scoring ability but also goes to the hard areas and plays a complete game.

A player who's a leader, who takes care of themselves and looks after their teammates.

While that description certainly applies to Sidney Crosby, it's actually describing Marie-Philip Poulin, his counterpart with Hockey Canada. Which is fitting, as she has been referred to as the Sidney Crosby of women's hockey. 

"To be honest, I would draw a lot of comparisons to Sidney, actually," said Troy Ryan, an assistant coach for Team Canada. "The style of player she is, she's obviously high skill, but she plays the game the right way. 

"She plays a hard game. She doesn't mind going to the difficult areas. She likes the physical side of things. She's a leader. The way she approaches the game - she's such a professional, she takes care of herself and looks after people."

The respect level between Crosby and Poulin is evident. The two of them text often to talk their sport - "We're both passionate about hockey," Poulin said - and Crosby has gone to watch her and the rest of Team Canada play on different international stages when he's had the chance. If the reference were to be reversed, Crosby would be honored.

"It's a good thing, I think, either way," he said with a smile. "She's done a great job and she's had a lot of pressure on her from a young age. I remember seeing those big goals."

Crosby is referring to Poulin's Olympic performances, as she is the only player in women's ice hockey history to have scored in three consecutive Olympic Finals - each time against the United States. 

After scoring both goals in Canada's 2-0 win on home soil in Vancouver in 2010 (the same year Crosby scored the Golden Goal), she followed that up with a performance for the ages in 2014. 

Poulin scored the game-tying goal with 54.6 seconds in regulation before following that up with the overtime game-winner in Canada's 3-2 win in the Gold Medal Game.

"It was special," Poulin said. "Just being able to celebrate that with my teammates and my family was special, especially the way it happened. If I would want to write a fairy tale about one thing I couldn't do any better - sometimes I still need to pinch myself when I talk about that. The group that we had was quite special. We had amazing leaders, so for us young ones it was quite amazing."

Looking back on it, Poulin thinks her ability to come up clutch like that is the result of grinding it out in the years leading up to those moments.

"Those are the moments you work for," she said. "That's why I'm in the gym every day, that's why I'm on the ice. You want to play in those big moments. That's really what makes me excited, that's what makes me want to get out there. 

"It doesn't come easy. You're going to put the work in first and then when those moments happen you're ready to go. For me, that's what keeps me going and being able to put that jersey on and being there in those big moments."

Poulin made Canada's senior national women's team when she was 18 years old, making her debut at the 2009 World Championship. Now 28 years old, Poulin has evolved into a veteran leader who goes above and beyond to make sure her teammates feel included (sound familiar?)

To this day, she remembers what it was like for her being around Hall of Famers Hayley Wickenheiser and Jayna Hefford, along with other legends like Jennifer Botterill and Caroline Ouelette - who eventually passed down the captaincy to Poulin in 2015.

"That was very special, especially coming from those names," Poulin said. "You don't take that for granted. I still remember how they made me feel in the dressing room. So along the way over the last couple of years that's what I've kind of tried to do, get to know the young ones and make them feel part of this team right away."

Canada does have some young stars in the making, as evidenced in their 4-1 win over the United States on Friday in their first of two exhibition games at UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex. 

That night, 19-year-old Sarah Fillier and 23-year-old Victoria Bach both got on the board. But not to be outdone, Poulin was the one who scored the best goal of them all on a shorthanded breakaway.

"It was mind-blowing. It was unreal," said Penguins forward Jared McCann, who was in attendance for the game and pumped his arms in celebration when Poulin scored. "She's a girl who's been around the game a long time. She's won countless medals for Canada. To watch her do that and carry the team and pick up where Hayley Wickenheiser left off is great to see."

Poulin helped Canada sweep the weekend games, as they held off a third-period surge from Team USA on Sunday to win 5-3. 

Regardless of hockey fans' nationalities and allegiances, Poulin is an absolute legend and someone you don't want to miss out on during her playing career. Hopefully, this past week in Pittsburgh opened some eyes and is the catalyst for increasing future coverage of women's hockey, which is what Poulin and the rest of the players from all over the world are striving for. 

"I don't really get recognized. I think that's something we want to push for," she said. "After the Olympics, that's when all of us get a little bit more recognized, but we want to push that to every day, every year that people recognize women's sports."

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