Canada-United States: despite the intense rivalry, they found love in the enemy

Canada-USA: Despite intense rivalry, they have found ; love in the enemy


Marie-Philip Poulin, Ann-Renée Desbiens and their teammates repeat it: every match against the United States is played as if it were an Olympic final. But sometimes the enemy becomes a friend and even the person with whom you share your life. 

Over the years, couples have emerged and the best known is certainly the one formed by Caroline Ouellette and the American Julie Chu.

They met officially in the summer of 2005 when the center player of the Quebecer with the national team, Jennifer Botterill, who played with Chu at Havard University, invited the two hockey players to work with young people during a hockey camp in Peterborough, Ontario.

Two captains

The chemistry quickly did its thing for Ouellette, who was a member of the Canadian senior since 1999, and Chu, who first skated with the United States main team two years later. 

The two lovers therefore clashed on the international scene for about 13 years. They were also captains of their respective rosters. 

“One thing that helped was that we weren't bastard type players, we weren't hated by the team. opponent,” says the assistant coach with Team Canada, who will play the seventh and final game of the Rivalry Series in Laval tonight, a confrontation that is tied 3 to 3.

“It still went well with our teammates, assures the 43-year-old Montrealer. People realized that it wasn't a one-time affair, but that it was serious, that there was really something special between us.”

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Several finals

During their career, the couple have crossed swords at four Olympic Games, Ouellette being crowned each time, while Chu had to settle for three silver medals and a bronze medal. At the World Championship, it was Chu who had the upper hand, with five triumphs against four for his wife. The latter, however, retired with a World Cup title. 

“We have always been able to separate the two,” says Ouellette. If I won a big game, she gave me my space, my time with my team. Same thing if she won a world championship. I had the ability to let her be proud and celebrate.”

A family in Montreal

Today, the two former athletes have another challenge to face, but this time they are together in the same boat. Ouellette and Chu are raising two little girls, Liv, 5, and Tessa, 2.5.

“I feel like I am sharing my life with the best mother in the world. She is patient and dedicated,” praises Ouellette.

Even before starting a family, the couple had chosen to live in Montreal, a decision that was not easy to make, especially for Chu, who was born in Connecticut.

“There was a period in our relationship where it became difficult because we were doing long distance,” says Ouellette. What worked in Montreal's favor was that there were the Canadiens [of the now defunct Canadian Women's Hockey League]. It was the best place to continue playing and training in order to be part of our national teams.”

With Concordia

Chu then got himself a part-time job with the Concordia University Stingers. Then, she replaced Les Lawton, who suffered a major stroke, before becoming the head coach. Ouellette the second, holding a full-time job too, a “dream job”.

“We had lots of offers to move, but we like what we do, says the former number 13. We like the age group we work with. These athletes go through all sorts of things during their college internship. We can help them find their way and their place in society, to become leaders. It is also a cycle; the girls graduate, leave and new ones arrive. Your message never expires. That's the secret to college coaching!”

Tonight, Ouellette will be behind the bench for Canada and Chu will watch the deciding game of the Rivalry Series cheering on the United States. No matter the outcome, they will go home with Liv and Tessa.

“In my early years, you had to hate each other”

The women's hockey teams of Canada and the United States have developed one of the most intense rivalries in the world of sport. Heading into tonight's game, they had faced each other 173 times since 1990, with the Maple Leaf dominating with 98 wins.

“In my early years, you had to hate each other, says Caroline Ouellette, who has been with the senior national team since 1999. Now, with the professional leagues and university hockey, we have gotten to know each other. There are friendships that have been formed. But just because you're friends doesn't mean you want the other to win the fight or the race for the puck. There is still this physical rivalry where we don't give each other an inch and we go all out.

“But it's still nice to see that off the ice, the girls are working on projects together to advance women's hockey”, she notes.

“That's why we play hockey”

Monday night, in Trois-Rivières, rookie Élizabeth Giguère played against Rebecca Gilmore and Kali Flanagan, two teammates with the Boston Pride, in the Premier Hockey Federation, the same league as the Montreal Force.

“It doesn’t change anything. When you wear a Canada jersey and they wear a USA jersey, on the ice, we're not friends and that's okay. When we go back to Boston, we will play together and we will be friends,” explains Giguère.

At 25, the Quebec City native is experiencing her first moments with the senior national team. She had tasted this rivalry before with Canada's development and under-18 squads, but there she quickly realized it was on a whole different level.

“I reminds me of my first game [on November 15], says Giguère. It's just bigger than you think. You see the games with Marie-Philip [Poulin] and Hilary Knight [from the United States] and there you are on the ice for a face-off and they are next to you. It's big, but it's fun. It's intense and that's what we play hockey for.”

A better caliber

It's not just the rivalry that changed, but also the caliber of play.

“The speed, the robustness, the shots… At the time, only a few players had really good shots. Now you can be Kendall Coyne Schofield [an American] at 5ft 2in and your throw is as good as a 5ft 10in girl. Girls are better trained, they are better athletes, stick technology has evolved. It makes the game much more exciting.”