Marianne Picard, a center for Team Quebec, wasn't supposed to be at the Canada Winter Games. In fact, she was barely supposed to be back on the ice. After undergoing knee surgery during the summer, doctors told her that she wouldn't even be able to skate again until this past weekend, let alone compete on the national stage.
This event was always on her radar: when her doctor said there was no chance she'd be healthy in time, she told him there was no way she'd miss the Canada Games. She believed in herself through it all, but admits that no one around her thought she'd be ready. Thanks to a lot of hard work and a little luck, though, she was able to get the all-clear two months ahead of schedule, and immediately sent an email to Team Quebec head coach Noémie Marin.
"I was taking a chance, because I was like, I didn't do any camps, so they're probably going to say no. But she invited me to the last camp – the last, last camp – and then I made the team. It's almost a miracle, because I wasn't even supposed to start skating until a week ago."
That camp began just four days after her first game back, which meant that her second match of the season was an exhibition against none other than the CWHL's Les Canadiennes de Montréal. The Team Quebec teenagers not only got to play against many of their heroes, but actually beat them, 3-2.
"That gives us a lot of confidence," Picard said. "After that game we were like, Whoa. We actually have a chance to win the Canada Games. And I think we do have a chance to win them. We have a pretty good team."
The experience of sharing the ice as equals with Olympians and professionals is still a bit surreal for Picard, and you can hear the amazement in her voice as she reflects back on it. It wasn't just about being star-struck, though: as the 16-year-old takes the next steps in her career, the game made her goals in the sport feel that much more achievable.
"I had goosebumps. I was going to the face-off, and Marie-Philip Poulin was right in front of me. It's like your idols are your rivals now, and I think that's the dream. We realized that the line between them and us is slim. I think we all have a chance to play for the Canadiennes one day, and that's one of my dreams, too."
Picard's been a stand-out in her age group for a while. She was her league's top scorer at the pee-wee and bantam levels, and has been one of the best players on a deep varsity roster at Stanstead College since she joined at the age of 13. The grade 10 student is already committed to the University of Wisconsin, where she's expected to start in 2021-22.
In the meantime, she aims to help Team Quebec defend its gold medal. Off the ice, she's excited to spend time with her teammates, check out different sports, and get to know athletes from other provinces who she may be competing alongside in the coming years. Picard's got big goals and a bright future in the sport, but she's not putting undue pressure on herself.
"I'm going to the Canada Games and I have nothing to lose, because I wasn't even supposed to be there. So I'm just going to enjoy it. Of course Team Canada is the biggest objective, but right now I'm just focusing on having fun and winning the Canada Games for the team. I just want to play well and give my best."
The women's hockey tournament at the Canada Winter Games runs from February 24 to March 2. All games will be streamed live except for one quarterfinal and the gold-medal game, which will be broadcast on TSN and RDS.
(Photo credit: Hockey Québec/YouTube)