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Women’s collegiate hockey in Quebec deals a blow as the school’s program is put on hiatus

About 20 elite hockey players are scrambling to find a new team to play with after Cégep de Saint-Laurent confirmed Thursday that its women’s hockey program will not be on the ice for the foreseeable future. The school blames difficulties in recruiting enough players.

“We are not taking this decision lightly,” said Danielle Malkassoff, director of student services and communications at Cégep de Montréal.

“We prefer to take one step back and then two steps forward,” she said.

Malkassoff couldn’t say when the team might return to the ice, but hinted it could take a few years.

“Women’s hockey is not dead. It is part of our DNA.”

Malkassoff said the past few years have been difficult. “There was a lack of stability in the coaching position and when the coach leaves, the players often leave.”

troubled times

It was certainly a tough time for the program, one of the oldest collegiate teams in the province.

First, there was COVID-19, which wiped out an entire season, but it was the same for other programs as well.

Then, at the start of the 2021-22 season, the team parted ways with coach Dany Brunet because he was not vaccinated.

Alexandria D’Onoforio, in black, had already been a coach but not at the CEGEP level. The team struggled in their first season under his management. (Submitted by Alexandria D’Onofrio)

During the season, the Patriotes replaced Brunet with Alexandria D’Onoforio. The former Dawson College and Concordia Stinger player had coached U18 AAA teams, but this was the 27-year-old’s first time coaching at the college level. The Patriots struggled on the ice, winning only five games.

In April, after the end of the season, CEGEP athletic director Hugo Lamoureux fired D’Onoforio and assistant coach Léa McIntyre.

Players and coaches claim sexism

The news was hard to take, but D’Onofrio says the biggest slap in the face is what Lamoureux said during that conversation.

“We basically got a phone call saying, ‘Sorry, we’re going a different direction. We decided to go with a male head coach,'” she said. Not a particular man. Just a man.

CBC has confirmed to current Patriots roster players, as well as two other coaches, that Lamoureux said he was specifically looking for a man to coach the women’s team.

Shock and resignations

Alexandra Boulanger was assistant coach of the Patriotes. After speaking with D’Onofrio, she confronted Lamoureux who confirmed what D’Onofrio had told her.

“In his mind, the perfect team would have a male head coach,” Boulanger said. “He preferred that. He found it easier to communicate with a man.”

Shocked, Boulanger decided to resign from the team.

Women’s collegiate hockey in Quebec deals a blow as the school’s program is put on hiatus
Assistant coach Alexandra Boulanger confronted the CEGEP athletic director over her preference for male coaching staff, then quit. (Jay Turnbull/CBC)

“It was a big disappointment for me, and it goes against my values ​​of developing sport and developing women in sport,” she said.

Two other women also quit: strength and conditioning coach Emmanuelle Blais and assistant coach Alexandra Labelle.

Bad choice of words

Lamoureux did not return any messages to CBC, but Danielle Malkassoff said he would continue as athletic director. She says Lamoureux simply chose his words poorly and did not express himself properly.

“I can tell you that we don’t choose our coaches based on their gender,” she said. “And I can confirm that we have women leading our hockey teams more often than men.”

CEGEP Saint-Laurent is one of the oldest women’s collegiate hockey programs in the province.

The great Caroline Ouellette of Team Canada played there. Making the team disappear, even if it’s temporarily, is a blow to women’s hockey.

“With this decision, we have lost young coaches who were top athletes and exceptional leaders,” Ouellette wrote in a Facebook post. “They are fantastic role models for student-athletes.”

The news comes just days after a committee examining the health of hockey in the province released a list of recommendations to improve the sport. The report says promoting women’s hockey should be a priority and that more women should be added to leadership roles.

Women’s collegiate hockey in Quebec deals a blow as the school’s program is put on hiatus

The players scrambled

The news has team members wondering what to do next. Megan Miron played three seasons with the Patriotes and hoped to use next year as a springboard to a college team.

“We all have problems because now we have nowhere to go. The girls are trying to find other teams to play but the teams are all full.”

The architecture student still has a year at CEGEP de Saint-Laurent and will not be transferred. She says Lamoureux is ultimately responsible for the program’s demise and accuses him of not doing enough to save him.

“I feel abandoned. I feel like the Cégep hasn’t pushed. They just say they’re sorry but they haven’t done everything to help us.”

The 19-year-old says it likely spells the end of her competitive hockey career and she blames Lamoureux.

“Really sad and disheartening. I feel like everything I’ve worked for since I was young is canceled because of one person who didn’t want to help women’s hockey.”

MP Enricco Ciccone, Liberal critic for sports, recreation and healthy living and a former professional hockey player, does not accept the CEGEP’s justification for closing the program.

He says the college level is a stepping stone for women to advance in their careers and he wants to see the team back on the ice as soon as possible.

“If you have a women’s program, you have to put in the resources to attract good players.”

Ciccone says Lamoureux’s search for a male coach is unacceptable: “It’s an old mentality.”

As for D’Onofrio, she says the cégep gives up too easily.

“Just because I was fired, this program shouldn’t have been shut down. It had nothing to do necessarily with me. They decided to get another coach, well now go get them another coach That’s what irritates some of the players.”

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