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When opportunity knocks

Kim St-Pierre once nearly quit hockey – but when one door opened, the goaltender found a home not only in the women’s game, but in the Hockey Hall of Fame

Wendy Graves
June 23, 2022

Kim St-Pierre remembers sitting on the couch in her home in Châteauguay, Quebec. It’s February 1998, the middle of the night, and her mom wants her to watch a hockey game being played halfway around world in Nagano, Japan. Canada’s National Women’s Team is playing the United States for the first Olympic gold medal in women’s hockey.

“I don’t know why,” says St-Pierre, “but I had this vision, this feeling, that one day – I didn’t know how because I was so far from it – that I could wear that jersey. I would have loved for them to win that gold medal, but that’s the moment when I looked at my mom and wished that one day I could wear this special jersey.”

St-Pierre would wear that jersey 83 times for Team Canada from 1998 to 2011. She won three gold medals at the Olympic Winter Games and five gold medals at the IIHF World Women’s Championship (as well as four silver medals). She posted a 64-10 record, with a 1.17 goals-against average, a .939 save percentage and 29 shutouts. She ranks No. 1 among Canadian goaltenders in games played, wins and shutouts.

In 2021, she became the first female goaltender – and eighth woman – inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame.

St-Pierre’s journey to her historic destination began like so many Canadian players: street hockey in the summer, a backyard rink in the winter and older siblings directing the youngest to stand in net.

“I fell in love with the sport,” she says. She asked her parents to play on an organized team. “At first it was not easy for them – they weren’t seeing any Team Canada, it was not an Olympic sport, and nothing really to be excited to put your daughter in. But they loved how passionate I was.”

Her dad, André, had played hockey at a high level and been drafted by the New York Rangers. His familiarity with the hockey environment eased everyone’s mind, when, at age eight, St-Pierre transitioned from figure skating to hockey.

St-Pierre started as a forward. One day her coach walked into the room with goalie gear. Inexplicitly drawn to the unattractive old, brown equipment, St-Pierre jumped up to volunteer. Her mom, Louise, may have thought her daughter was crazy, but she encouragingly helped her dress that day.

One practice turned into one game. That one game was unremarkable, and St-Pierre knows her parents could have easily suggested she stick to be being skater. “But they saw how disappointed I was,” she says. “I think it was a great life lesson to just keep going, to work harder to be able to win my first game as a goalie. We never looked back. I’m thankful that they helped me, guided me. I become a goalie.”

St-Pierre idolized Patrick Roy and dreamed of playing for the Montreal Canadiens. A multisport athlete – including tennis, soccer and fastball – she wanted to go to the Olympic Games in anything except hockey, the one sport where she couldn��t see women competing at the time. Those two goals drove her through her teens playing boys’ hockey.

“It was about having a passion for sport,” she says. “It never really mattered that I was the only girl. Being a goalie you’re different, you’re special, you have different equipment. For me, it was a way to stand out and to play because I loved it, not because I wanted to be the first one to accomplish something.”

St-Pierre’s days of playing organized hockey appeared to be coming to a close in 1998. She had finished her junior career and could never crack the roster to represent Team Quebec at various national women’s championships. “I was almost ready to quit, not seeing any opportunities for me.”

Around that time, Dan Madden, the general manager of the women’s team at McGill University in Montreal, offered her the chance to try out for the Martlets. Having been repeatedly released from Team Quebec, St-Pierre didn’t have the warmest memories playing women’s hockey. But a talk with her dad and a visit to the team convinced her that this was where she should be. “It’s a decision that changed my life,” she says. “Yes, I got to play hockey, I got the call to try out for Team Canada that same year. And that’s where I met my husband [Lenny Jo Goudreau], and we have two kids now together [Liam and Ayden]. Going to McGill changed my life and gave me all these opportunities.”

St-Pierre played five seasons at McGill. Her final year, she became the first woman to win a men’s university hockey game. She left the program having set 60 goaltending records. In 103 career games with the women’s team, she recorded 27 shutouts and a 2.13 goals-against average. She won one silver medal and two bronze medals at the national championship.

(She also eventually survived the cut for Team Quebec. She won gold at the 1999 Esso Women’s Nationals, and again in 2002, when she was named MVP. She won silver in 2000 and again in 2001, when she was named Top Goaltender.)

Danièle Sauvageau was one of the coaches who had to keep telling St-Pierre she wasn’t ready for the provincial squad. Sauvageau was also the coach of Canada’s National Women’s Team for the lead-up to the 2002 Olympics and the person who invited St-Pierre to her first national team camp in 1998. Sauvageau had seen St-Pierre play in Châteauguay. “She was impactful in pretty much every game that she was playing.” But for whatever reason, says Sauvageau, she came up short at the camps. But the potential was clear. All she needed was the longer window of opportunity a national camp affords.

Sauvageau wanted to give her young goaltenders experience in the lead up to the 2002 Olympic Winter Games. In 2001, St-Pierre earned her first starting position at the IIHF World Women’s Championship.

“This is where her intangible came along: calm, cool, collected,” says Sauvageau. “You're watching the game behind the bench, and you kind of say, ‘Oh, we just gave up a goal here.’ Then you see a glove coming up at the last second and it’s, ‘How did she stop that?’ She created this, ‘We got to win, we’re able to win, we will win” by stopping everything that was coming at her in any possible way. She was the goaltender, the player of that particular world championship.” She dictated a level of trust among the team. “The impact of her stepping on the ice knowing that she was going to do everything [to stop the puck] created this momentum. We needed that momentum in order to go through what we did in 2001, 2002, and it started with this great victory in April 2001.”

St-Pierre fulfilled her dream of being an Olympian in 2002. Canada memorably lost eight games in a row to the United States in preparation. In the gold medal game against its rivals, the team scored early and St-Pierre made a pair of big saves in the first period. Canada then got called for eight penalties in a row.

“When you play [26 minutes] shorthanded and you have Kim St-Pierre in net, you have this sense of ‘We’re going to be OK,’” says Sauvageau. “It’s perception, it’s feeling. Even if we lost eight games in a row, this is the game. And when there’s the game, we have the goaltender. You build a pyramid from the ground, and you build a gold medal game from your goaltender, and she responded at the level that she had in 2001. There’s a sense of calm on the bench.”

Canada won 3-2, and St-Pierre was named Top Goaltender and to the tournament all-star team. “When the countdown happened for the last 10 seconds – I felt like it lasted two minutes in my head – I couldn’t wait for the girls to come [jump in the crease] and celebrate what we had just accomplished together,” says St-Pierre.

Every year on the team was different, but each one left St-Pierre with a lasting memory. Veterans like Cassie Campbell, Thérèse Brisson and Vicky Sunohara welcoming her as a teammate. Three centralization cycles, each one making her feel like a professional hockey player. Playing in a home-ice Games, in 2010, with family and friends cheering her on. Learning about herself even when she didn’t play, like in the 2006 Olympic gold medal game. “It’s one of my proudest accomplishments, the way I reacted and my attitude to [not starting],” she says.

When St-Pierre won the Clarkson Cup with the Montreal Stars in 2009, she completed her collection of the top three championships in women’s hockey. She won again in 2011, and was named the Canadian Women’s Hockey League Goaltender of the Year all three seasons she played.

What made her such a great goaltender?

“Number one was her calm,” says Sauvageau. “Her ability to read, digest the information in front of her, and react.” St-Pierre would sort of shrug when asked about systems, says Sauvageau. “But in her net, she was able to anticipate almost what was going to happen and make the right move, even before she needed to make it.”

St-Pierre spent the last several years working for BOKS, a free physical-activity program meant to get kids moving. She plans to continue promoting not only women’s hockey – to tell her story and hopefully inspire young girls – but also involvement in any sport.

The Order of Hockey in Canada recognizes individuals who have made outstanding contributions to the game of hockey. It’s giving St-Pierre a new platform, both to encourage the next generation and to thank those who made the moment possible.

“I want to take this opportunity to really show how when you believe in something you can achieve something,” she says. “I really want to thank everybody who helped me achieve success and be able to represent Canada for so many years.”

For more information:

Esther Madziya
Manager, Communications
Hockey Canada

(403) 284-6484 

Spencer Sharkey
Manager, Communications
Hockey Canada

(403) 777-4567

Jeremy Knight
Manager, Corporate Communications
Hockey Canada

(647) 251-9738

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