Erica Ayala

CWHL All-Star Captain Brigette Lacquette's Star Continues to Rise

Brigette Lacquette came across as quiet, soft-spoken, and perhaps a little shy when she spoke to the media at a Hilton conference room in downtown Toronto ahead of the 2019 CWHL All-Star Game. Despite her unassuming demeanor, Lacquette's excitement was evident. The 2015 Clarkson Cup champion was not only participating in her first CWHL All-Star Game, but she was voted as a captain, earning over 50% of the fan vote.

"I didn't know it was doing to take off like that," Lacquette told The Victory Press in a phone interview. "It's a complete honor to be able to be captain and honestly thanks to the fans and the people across Canada and the U.S. and everything like that."

On Sunday, January 21, CWHL fans in Canada, the United States, China and elsewhere in the world watched Lacquette and Knox lead Team Purple and Team Gold, respectively. Knox topped Lacquette in an 8-4 win at Scotiabank Arena.

Throughout the weekend, Lacquette reiterated how honored she felt to represent the Calgary Inferno and the Indigenous community. Just over a year ago, Lacquette was named to her first Canadian Olympic Team. She became the second player with Indigenous roots to play for Canada – Jocelyne Laroque is of Métis heritage and competed in the 2014 Winter Olympics – and the first First Nations woman to wear the Maple Leaf. Both Lacquette and Larocque will suit up for Team Canada again next month for the Rivalry Series against the United States.

Lacquette cracked her first Canadian senior roster in her sophomore year. She centralized with Hockey Canada ahead of the 2014 Winter Olympics but ultimately was released ahead of the Sochi Games.  She then returned to the national team for the 2015 and 2016 IIHF World Championships.

After earning a silver medal in Pyeongchang, South Korea, Lacquette learned her hockey stick will forever be part of hockey history. "A couple of days after our final game, our equipment manager tracked me down and said, 'Hey, just so you know, your stick went to the Hockey Hall of Fame.' I definitely told my family about that," Lacquette said with a palpable enthusiasm. Sharing her success with her family and her community are deeply important to Lacquette. She knows how difficult it can be to grow up in Canada as a member of the Indigenous community, and she got through the tough times with the support of her family.

Lacquette hails from Mallard, Manitoba. Her father, Terance, is of Métis and First Nations lineage, and her mother, Anita, is Cote First Nations. Brigette fell in love with hockey at an early age. She first hit the ice around five years old, following her older cousins into the sport, and felt drawn in by the fun and competitive nature of the game.

However, she also experienced the dark history of racism in Canada while on the ice, sometimes hearing things shouted at her like "dirty Indian" or "go back to the reservation."  Terence recalled telling his youngest daughter in a CBC News story last year: "I just said, you know what, just beat them on the ice. There's not a whole lot that we can do. Some people are going to be like that. They're going to make comments like that."

It's advice Lacquette now shares when visiting youth across Canada. "I just try to be the best role model for them. Growing up as First Nations and growing up in an Indigenous community, you know, that's tough."

The Canadian government instituted boarding schools for Indigenous children known as residential schools. The policy, known as "aggressive assimilation" was believed to be the obligation of the country – to force Indigenous communities to learn English and adopt Christianity and white Canadian customs.  In the name of nationalism, children were raped, tortured, and even killed at the hands of the Department of Indian Affairs. The schools operated throughout the 19th and 20th Centuries, with the last one closing in November 1996. Since, the Indigenous community has worked to repair the harm done by these schools through truth and reconciliation committees, compensation from the federal government and several Christian churches, and most importantly — although difficult —remembrance of the residential schools as a means of honoring survivors and ensuring history is not repeated.

The effects of the residential school system are still felt today, making role models such as Lacquette all the more important to the Indigenous communities across Canada. Since returning from Pyeongchang with a silver medal, she has traveled across the country to make speeches and participate in youth events to share her story and her accolades.

In this way, Lacquette is for many what her family has always been for her: a support system. When she was overcoming the shock of losing to the United States in a shootout in the 2018 gold medal game, the first person she spoke to was her grandmother Anne Bryant. "She was the one person I wanted to talk to," Lacquette reflected. "[She's] always keeping me humble and letting me know that she's going to be there for me no matter what, even if things are going bad with hockey. She's someone who's always there with unconditional love, so I'm pretty fortunate to have that."

This is particularly important to Brigette because not everyone has a family to lean on. "I've had questions when I've gone to certain communities and they're like, well what if you don't have that support from your family?", she said.  To that, Lacquette encourages young people to lean on friends: "Finding those friendships [where] you bond with people and I guess just having that positive attitude... I'm trying to be that light for them just to remind them that they're not alone."

Hockey continues to bring lasting friendships into Lacquette's life. A great deal of her excitement about competing in her first All-Star Game was the opportunity to enjoy the game together with her CWHL sisterhood. Being a pioneer for women's hockey as well as the Indigenous community is a job within itself. However, Lacquette and the rest of the players in the league take it up proudly. "Hockey is what kind of kept me going and kept me occupied... it was my out," she told the Victory Press last week. Lacquette continued: "I love hockey. I have the most fun playing it, having teammates and having those laughs in the dressing room that's actually something that you're always going to remember. So honestly I play hockey because I love it and I know right now [in] women's hockey, you're not making millions of dollars playing it. But, right now I play because I love it and it's fun."

And that fun continues as the CWHL regular season reaches its end. Lacquette is third in points (2G, 16A) among all CWHL defenders, behind Montreal's Erin Ambrose (6G, 17A) and Inferno teammate Kacey Bellamy (6G, 12A). The Calgary Inferno currently sit in first place in the league standings, just two points ahead of the Montreal. Calgary travels east to take on Les Canadiennes for a two-game series this coming weekend.

Off the ice, Lacquette continues to be a bright light and next month will be honored as one of 12 Indspire Award recipients. Per Indspire, the awards "represent the highest honour that the Indigenous community bestows on its own people" and are broadcast nationally in Canada.  As women's hockey continues to grow in visibility, Lacquette is an embodiment of what the sport can be at its best, both on and off the ice.

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