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
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
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.”