Written by Christa-Lee Sowerby

U of C’s women’s hockey coach uses Olympian know how to bump her team up.

photo courtesy of Hockey Canada

It’s the day after the University of Calgary women’s hockey team wins its first road victory of the season, and head coach Danielle Goyette is in her office, busy making adjustment for the next game, reviewing video of the previous night’s victory. Perfection is the only option for the second year coach. Her new digs sit above the Calgary Olympic Oval, the spot she used to call “her office” for more than 16 years as a member of the national team.

Goyette, 42, now in her second season of coaching, has her work cut out for her. The Dinos, before Goyette’s arrival, were a enjoying the view of the Alberta Colleges’ Athletic Conference from the basement with a 2-18 record. But now, after finishing last season second in the league, Goyette has big plans for this team: she plans on returning them to the Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS) division, a league the Dinos haven’t been in since 2002, and turning them into CIS champs. And having tasted success on the international level, she knows what it takes to reach goals. She’s done it her whole life.

Goyette grew up in the village Saint-Nazaire, Quebec, (pop. 2,000) about a three-hour drive from Quebec City, with six sisters and one brother. You would think that it would have been her brother or father who had pushed her to pick up a stick, but Goyette says that no one else in her family played hockey. Her passion for hockey ripened on the outdoor rinks of Saint-Nazaire, where there were no rules or stereotypes for women because there weren’t even have enough kids to play.
“I was doing it because I love it, my parents never pressured me, they never said ‘no it’s for boys’,” recalls Goyette, of the early times on the ice.

She was playing “for fun” as she puts it until she was 16, when she and “some girls that were around that played hockey” put a team together and went to a tournament in a neighboring community. It was there, where Goyette was spotted by a coach who wanted her on his team. She would join the team the next year.

Even still, this team was pretty laid-back when it came to fundamentals. They only played once a week, and Goyette recalls being coached by a boyfriend of one of the girls on the team, and that some players played with figure skates.

Women’s hockey at the time was not experiencing what one would call a boom in registration. Most girls still had to play on the boy’s teams. It wasn’t until the first IIHF Women’s World Championship in 1990 that women’s hockey was on the sports map. In 1990, there were 8,146 girls and women playing on 517 teams across Canada. By 1996, there was close to 24,000 and in 2005-06 there was more than 69,000 women and girls registered.

After having tasted what it was like to play on a real team, self-taught player Goyette, then 30, showed up in Calgary for her Team Canada camp in 1991, as a player whose only real skill was her instinct for the game.

“The girls who came from Toronto were all structure, they had practices, and they knew where to go and where you should be, and I had no idea. I remember the first time I almost got cut because they thought ‘she can’t play with anybody’.”

The head coach at the time was Shannon Miller, and Miller echoes Goyette’s claim to not have a clue about the X’s and O’s of the game. She says that while Goyette was not a well-conditioned athlete, she had natural talent.

“I saw that she had a gift for the offensive side of the game but needed a lot of work on the defensive side of the game,” said Miller. She chose her for the squad. Goyette proved she could skate with the best despite her lack of tactical skill, because in her very first World Championships in 1992 in Finland, she lead Team Canada in scoring with 10 points, helping Canada bring home their second straight World Championship.

Miller convinced her to pack up all her belongings and commit to making the 1998 Olympic squad. Goyette made the move to Calgary in 1996, but it was not an easy transition. Unable to speak English, she took a job cleaning toilets at the Olympic Oval, just to make ends meet because at that time women’s hockey received no funding from the government.

“I was ready to do what it took to get there, for me you know, if that’s what I have to do, it was like ‘I’ll do it’.”  After the 1998 Olympics Goyette found a job where she could work flexible hours, and not worry about being too tired to train. When she was not on the ice working, Goyette could be found walking the isles of The Home Depot. Specifically, she worked in the plumbing department, as part of a sponsorship between the store and Olympic athletes. The Home Depot allows athletes to work part-time, while receiving full-time salary and benefits.

With a more structured training program in place Goyette got better, and better. She started working out twice a day, and zeroed in on the Olympics. Her first shot at making the Olympic squad came in September of 1997, when team Canada held Olympic team tryouts at the Olympic Oval, and included 20 members of the World championship teams, along with eight other players who had been invited.

Goyette made it though camp, made the team, and can still recall the feeling of obtaining her goal.

“I remember that day like it was yesterday,” says Goyette smiling “I can see myself entering the room with the two coaches there telling me I made the team.”

To believe that I can make it when I came from a small town, not even a town, a village in Quebec, not even a lot of people believed I could do it. Even my brother.”

Now, faced with the pressure of bringing home a gold from the Nagano Olympics, the national team went to work. They practiced daily at Father David Bauer arena in Calgary, and had five-and one-half months to work out all of the kinks.
The only problem being, there were none. And it would prove to be a big problem come February 17, 1998. At the time, team Canada dominated women’s hockey. Going into the 1998 Olympics Canada had won the last four world championships, including a gold and silver medial in the ‘96 and ‘97 3 Nations Cup, a tournament between Canada, the United States, and Finland.  Their only main source of competition came from the United States, who had faced team Canada in each of the four championship games, and each time, team Canada came away golden.

Confident, the team left for Japan in February of 1998 expecting to bring home the gold medal.

The day before the opening ceremonies, came the devastating news that Goyette had lost her father, Henri-Paul Goyette, who passed away from a long battle with Alzheimer’s. Goyette was heartbroken.

“Off the ice, I was a mess, I lost my dad the day before the opening ceremonies, and I didn’t live these Olympics like everybody else did.”

Despite this heartbreak, Goyette started off Canada’s bid for gold by scoring the first goal, but was struggling off the ice. When she wasn’t playing, she was crying, but when she was playing, Goyette was playing with a passion and fire that helped her lead the tournament in scoring with eight goals and one assist in six games. But the personal on-ice success did not mean things were running as smoothly for the team.

“I didn’t see what was happening with the team, I wanted to go back home,” recalls Goyette.

Canada rolled into the gold medal game confident they would skate away with the gold. But the Americans had other ideas.

Having already come off a round-robin 7-4 loss to the Americans, in Nagano the Canadians were confident they could bounce back. They didn’t, and on February 17, 1998, the first ever Olympic women’s gold medal in hockey went to the United States.  After the 3-1 loss, Goyette says there was a lot to reflect on.

“At these Olympics, a lot of players were pointing fingers at somebody else, we needed to took at ourselves.”

“We should have won in ‘98, we were dominating women’s hockey,” Goyette says of the deflating loss to the Americans.  That loss was actually the best thing to happen to women’s hockey in Canada, according to Goyette after further soul searching. “I really think that’s why the women’s team in Canada is so strong, after that loss it was like ‘ok I don’t want to feel that way on the blue line again’.”

Armed with a new mindset, Goyette and her teammates focused on 2002.

“We were ready to do anything we had to do to win, you could have told us to train for eight hours a day, we were ready to do what it takes. Before that we were not,” said Goyette.

The national women’s team program also went through some changed after the ‘98 loss to the Americas. In March of 1998, The Canadian Hockey Association announced it would not operate a full-time National Women’s hockey program during the 1998-99 hockey season. As a result, Shannon Miller’s contract with the team was not renewed.  Bob Nicholson, then the Canadian Hockey Association vice-president, said in a press release that Miller’s role within the program was not determined.
"We are very pleased with the job Shannon Miller has done in her seven-and-a-half years with the National Women's Team, and certainly over the five-month period of centralization leading to the 1998 Winter Games in Nagano," Nicholson said of the decision.

Then on June 23, 1998, Daniele Sauvageau, who was an assistant coach for the Nagano team, was named head coach of the women’s team for the 1999 Women’s World Hockey Championships in Finland.

On November 20, 2001, the new Head Coach and General Manager Sauvageau named Canada’s roster for the 2002 Olympic games. Once again 35-year old Goyette made the cut. Canada’s roster featured 11 returning players from the ’98 silver medal squad. With revenge on their minds, Goyette and Team Canada went to Salt Lake City looking for gold. They would get their chance at redemption, as they would once again face USA in the final. Canada opened scoring early in the first period, sending Canada to the dressing room with the lead. And that’s when things got interesting. Possibly due to playing in their own backyard, the Americans enjoyed six power-play opportunities in the second period alone, with two power plays in a row and one two-man advantage. But the U.S only scored one power play goal, while Canada scored twice. Caroline Ouellette scored 1:45 into the first period, while Goyette assisted on Canada’s second goal in the second period from Hayley Wickenheiser. The penalty parade continued in the third with the Canadians sitting in the box four more times. Despite the penalty trouble, the Canadian’s hung on to a 3-2 victory.

Back in Goyette’s cluttered office that she shares with two of the Calgary Oval X-Treme coaches, the Olympic Oval’s high performance female hockey team, she laughs when asked about the changes in women’s hockey from when she first started, to today’s well-oiled organization.

“Now they expect things. ‘Where’s my skates? Where’s my stick?’, First World Championship we won, we got a T-shirt.”

Rewind to January of 2006, and Goyette is getting ready to leave practice at the Father David Bauer arena, when Canada’s Chef de Mission for the 2006 Canadian Olympic team in Turin, Shane Pearsall, called her and her coach, Melody Davidson, to the bench. Pearsall came with the news that Goyette, then 40, would be named flagbearer and lead the entire team of Canadians into the Stadio Olimpico, in Turin, Italy to mark the start of the Olympics.

“And I was like “HOLY SHIT!,” remembers Goyette of hearing the news.

“ And he said ‘don’t move, don’t do anything’ And I’m like, ‘are you kidding me!!?.”

Honoured and excited at the news of bearing Canada’s flag on the biggest international stage, Goyette couldn’t wait to share the news with teammates and family.  “No you can’t,” Goyette recalls Pearsall warning.
“What?” Goyette asked, practically bursting from the news.

Goyette had to contain the exciting secret for the next 10 days, while the country, and her teammates speculated who it could be.

“It is the biggest honour I think,” said Goyette of being chosen to carry the flag “I would do it tomorrow.”

Goyette became the first Canadian hockey player to carry the flag in an opening ceremony, since Hubert Brooks in 1948.
On the ice, the team was a heavy favourite to repeat as Olympic champions, and this time the road to the final had few detours. The team went undefeated in the round robin portion of the tournament. They rolled into the finals, with the only difference being that this time, the Canadian women were facing an unfamiliar foe in the gold medal game. Having beat the Canadian team’s usual rival in the semis, the up-start Swedish team was the new obstacle for the Canadians.

Sweden, coming off a bronze at the 2002 Olympics, and a bronze at the 2005 World Championship, signaled that women’s hockey had become a world game and was no longer a two-team race.

But Canada, who had embarrassed the Swedes 8-1 during the round robin, we ready. They peppered the Sweden goalie, Kim Martin, with 26 shots, while Sweden could only muster eight through three periods of play. In the end, Canada skated away to a 4-1 win, and a second consecutive gold medal for Goyette. Both hockey playing Canadian flag bearers won gold medals.

Goyette has said she knew that 2006 would be her last Olympics, she decided to hang up her skates after 16 years on the national team. On January 20, 2008, she announced she announced her retirement. Over her time with the national team she collected 20 gold and four silver medals from international competitions. And Goyette is second on Canada’s national team all-time scoring list with 114 goals and 105 assists for a total of 219 points in just 171 games. At the Olympic level Goyette is second with 25 points to fellow Canadian Hayley Wickenheiser’s 38 points. Goyette is also second in points scored at World Hockey Champions with 68 points, Cammi Granato of the U.S. is first.

Over the phone, the governor of the Olympic Oval high performance women’s hockey program Kathy Berg, shares why Goyette was the perfect candidate for the lady Dino program.

“We couldn’t have possibly had a better candidate,” gushed Berg.

“I encouraged her to apply, she is certainly a high performance athlete and knows what it takes to be a high level hockey player.”

The Dinos are now operating under the umbrella of Oval high performance program, joining the X-Treme. The program was founded in 1995 and aims to give female hockey players a place to develop into talented hockey players. Basically this means that the Dino players now have at their disposal more coaches, ice-time, and a community where knowledge about being a high performance athlete can be shared.

Now that Goyette is with the Dinos, Berg says her leadership is what will take them to the next level, to the CIS.

“She knows what it takes to win, and when we decided we would take the Dinos team back under our program we had to changed the philosophy and expectations of that team,” says Berg. “We’re putting a team together to win, she was very capable of knowing how to win.”

In Goyette’s first season with the Dinos she lead them to a 12-6-4 regular season, good enough for third place in the ACAC. They eventually lost in the finals to MacEwan College Griffins in four games. But Goyette instilled a new work ethic, and a new possibility with winning, and a new way of assigning playing time. It’s not enough to be thought of as the best player on the team, you have to practice and play like the best. You have to earn your ice time.

“If you show me you deserve to play, I’ll play you. If you don’t work hard, I don’t care if you’re a good player, you won’t play,” says Goyette.

photo courtesy of Hockey Canada

Goyette calls herself a fair coach, with the main goal of pushing her athletes to get the most out of them; she wants them to succeed on the ice and in the classroom. If a player has an exam, and needs time to study, Goyette would rather see them hit the books as opposed to the hitting the ice, she understands the importance of being a well rounded individual.

“I feel when you’re fair like that, and you push a player to be the best they can be, that’s when they’re going to be successful. Not just as a hockey player, but as a human being, too.”

Goyette is perched behind the Dinos bench on a Saturday evening, eyes fixated on the game unfolding in front of her.  It’s late in the first period, and one of her players has a chance to grab an open puck. Goyette jumps to the front of the bench and starts pointing her arms and waving frantically, in an effort to will the player to the open puck.

It doesn’t matter though if the player misses the opportunity, as long as there is the effort and effort to fix whatever mistake may happen, Goyette is more interested in how her players react.

Dinos first-year defense Casey Irving says, “She always says that you can try new things, and she allows you to make mistakes, she just wants you to care after. You can’t skate half-hearted back to the bench, or down the ice.”
And this is what Berg says has been one of the changes with the Dinos since Goyette’s take-over.

“They realize that effort equals results, they (the players) see that Danielle is recruiting a higher level of athlete, and that’s the way it should be,” says Berg.

Tonight at the Olympic Oval, the Dinos are flying and they have a chance to sweep provincial rivals, the MacEwan Griffins.  It’s a Saturday night, and an arm-crossed Goyette, watches as one of her rookies, Elana Lovell scored a pretty goal, sliding the puck between the legs of a confused Griffins players.
The bench erupts into celebration.

Goyette calmly walks over to a couple of the celebrating players on the Dinos bench and begins what looks to be an explanation of what just happened, or what should have happened.

The self-taught player has become the teacher.