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Women's hockey heroes make inspirational stop

Phyllis Grindle of Brandon checks out the medal belonging to 1998 Winter Olympic Games women’s hockey silver medallist Fiona Smith-Bell after a hot stove session with Smith-Bell and 2014 Olympic hockey gold medallist Jocelyne Larocque during the Hockey Manitoba senior women’s provincial championships at the Keystone Centre on Saturday.

TIM SMITH/BRANDON SUN Enlarge Image

Phyllis Grindle of Brandon checks out the medal belonging to 1998 Winter Olympic Games women’s hockey silver medallist Fiona Smith-Bell after a hot stove session with Smith-Bell and 2014 Olympic hockey gold medallist Jocelyne Larocque during the Hockey Manitoba senior women’s provincial championships at the Keystone Centre on Saturday.

Jocelyne Larocque’s lifelong goal was to make it to the world stage after watching Canada’s women's hockey team take home silver at the 1998 Winter Games in Nagano.

Caitlin Puchniak takes a photo of her Winnipeg Aces teammate with Larocque during the senior women’s provincials at the Keystone Centre on Saturday.

Enlarge Image

Caitlin Puchniak takes a photo of her Winnipeg Aces teammate with Larocque during the senior women’s provincials at the Keystone Centre on Saturday. (TIM SMITH/BRANDON SUN)

So, it was appropriate for Larocque, who is fresh off winning gold with Team Canada to be flanked by 1998 silver medallist Fiona Smith-Bell during a hot stove chat and signing at the Hockey Manitoba senior women’s provincial championships this past weekend in Brandon.

"Players like Fiona really paved the way," she said as fans continued to trickle in to get a glimpse of weighty gold medal at the Keystone Centre on Saturday.

While the Olympic duo was in town, Smith-Bell ran an on-ice clinic for some of the tournament atom players and Larocque was the guest of honour to drop the puck at two afternoon games on Sunday.

Larocque is on a whirlwind schedule after Canada’s women’s hockey team etched itself into the nation's consciousness by coming back in the third period and defeating the United States 3-2 in overtime to win the gold medal at the Sochi Games last month.

"Aside from it being the Olympic final, the game itself was the most exciting, crazy game I’ve ever played in," she said. "It was the greatest hockey moment of my life, my dream had come true."

The only Manitoban on Team Canada’s roster still has trouble putting into words the enormous wash of emotions on that historic day.

"Just so many emotions, excitement, joy."

A generation apart, both Smith-Bell and Larocque — who both played on boys teams in their formative years — have seen the tremendous growth of girls hockey in the country and this year’s gold-medal win has pushed Team Canada’s players into a new echelon of fame.

"It’s OK to be a girl and play hockey," Larocque said. "It’s a growing sport, it’s more popular and that’s great and there’s more people that want to help and give back."

Since her silver win in Nagano, Smith-Bell said the women’s game has grown by leaps and bounds and U-18 and U-22 scouting has been amped up over the last several years to foster the future of the game.

"Hockey Canada and coaches like Mel Davidson and all the female scouts across the board have done a great job with establishing our U-18 and U-22 program and identifying players so the girls are getting international experience at a much younger age than we did," she said.

"This is a huge feeder system that was implemented shortly after I retired and you can see the girls are more prepared in key pressure situations when they get to the senior team which I feel has a great deal to do with the success we have had in the Olympics."

Larocque will continue to tour the country with Team Canada to speak with young players in arenas like Kinsman and Optimist.

"And this is the best part, it’s the most fun talking to kids, that’s always my favourite is being able to share my stories with girls and boys."

» gbruce@brandonsun.com

» Twitter: @grjbruce

Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition March 17, 2014

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Jocelyne Larocque’s lifelong goal was to make it to the world stage after watching Canada’s women's hockey team take home silver at the 1998 Winter Games in Nagano.

So, it was appropriate for Larocque, who is fresh off winning gold with Team Canada to be flanked by 1998 silver medallist Fiona Smith-Bell during a hot stove chat and signing at the Hockey Manitoba senior women’s provincial championships this past weekend in Brandon.

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Jocelyne Larocque’s lifelong goal was to make it to the world stage after watching Canada’s women's hockey team take home silver at the 1998 Winter Games in Nagano.

So, it was appropriate for Larocque, who is fresh off winning gold with Team Canada to be flanked by 1998 silver medallist Fiona Smith-Bell during a hot stove chat and signing at the Hockey Manitoba senior women’s provincial championships this past weekend in Brandon.

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