Q&A: Three-Time World Champion Nathalie Rivard Comments On The State Of Women’s Hockey In Canada

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Nathalie Rivard. Photo courtesy of Heather Price-Jones

Nathalie Rivard, a former member of the Canadian women’s national hockey team and a three-time World Champion, will be featured as a special guest at a Jan. 25 reception for the exhibition “She Shoots… She Scores!” at the Orillia Museum of Art and History. We caught up with her to talk about the reception, the current state of women’s hockey and Rivard’s 10-year-old daughter, who started playing hockey at the age of six, just one year younger than Rivard herself.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

What is it like for you to be featured as a special guest at the reception alongside Liz Knox and Brianne Jenner?

It’s an honour because they’ve paved the way. Their generation I wouldn’t say is much different than mine, but we do we do cover some different age ranges in terms of when they played versus when I played. It’s interesting to see that we still have some of the same challenges and we’re still looking for the same dreams to someday be able to play hockey in a professional league of some kind [that’s] supported just as well as the men’s leagues are supported. I thought we’d be there by now, to tell you the truth, when I when I was 20 years old and experienced my first World Championship in 1992. And now, we sit here quite a few years later and we’re still looking for those opportunities. You’d think by now it would have materialized, but that’s not the case. We still have some work to do. 

Brianne Jenner actually taught your daughter at a hockey camp over the summer, didn’t she? 

Yes, actually, she had a wonderful camp. My daughter just loved the camp and we’ll be going back there this summer. Now that I’m at the stage where I’m at in my life, and my daughter is where she’s at in her little sporting career, we definitely have a union where I’m coaching her and following her around… It’s most likely when Renee plays that I’m usually coaching or assistant coaching or involved in some capacity. Brianne Jenner and everyone else, they’re all pioneers. We all end up being pioneers and the girls look up to look up to the players in such awe that I think we have a responsibility to give that back. I love being on the ice with the girls because they just want to spend that time. They want to learn, they want to hear the shared experiences, so it’s always a pleasure to do it.

What is it like to get to watch your daughter grow in this sport, especially with such female great female leaders like Brianne?

It’s really interesting that for her that she can relate to female players and and that’s been a possibility for a while now, but when I grew up, I distinctly remember, my players were Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux… When I came to Toronto at the age of 18 [or] 19, then I started making contact with players such as Angela James and Geraldine Heaney and some of the bigger female players, but really, it wasn’t as publicized and advertised as it is today. Now I find Hockey Canada and just the hockey teams in general celebrate their players more publicly. Girls have an opportunity now to have these heroes and to admire what other girls have done. People like Brianne now have hockey schools and Jayna Hefford has had her hockey school for a long time. She was helped out by Vicky Sunohara and Laura Dupuis. There’s tons of girls that have done them, but there’s more and more of them now, which really helps the sport and it gives a chance for the young players to just touch that goal more often.  

Growing up with male role models, what is it like to know that young girls have female role models in hockey now and that you could even be one of them?

The thing is, the importance of that is to know that you can do it in a completely and uniquely female setting. In the past, there was a lot of blended situations where, for example, I started playing with boys because geographically in my area there was no girls hockey. I do believe in parts of the province there might not be female hockey absolutely everywhere, but it’s certainly more accessible… A lot of the girls will have blended opportunities and for various reasons, they may choose to get some training via the boys section, but now with more and more girls, you can see them start and reach their goal within the female developmental system only.

Considering the fact that the Canadian Women’s Hockey League ceased operations last year, why do you think it’s important at this time to highlight the value and legacy of women’s hockey?

A lot of people don’t realize the state of women’s hockey today. It’s out in the news a little bit, but a lot of people go about their day to day not really realizing that we don’t have a professional women’s hockey league and it’s not only about having that female [national hockey] league, but it’s about providing the players of that caliber with opportunities to compete and play against other players. If it stops at a certain level, it’s going to hinder the natural progression of the sport… If they’re playing at that caliber of competitiveness, there’ll be nowhere for them to go so then you lose all that talent. We need to continue to expose the history and the growth of women’s hockey and to see it to its full potential. That’s the importance of it all. 

What would you have to say to Canadian girls and young women that aspire to be hockey players as adults?

They have all the tools out there to reach their dreams. I look at what I had what I experienced through [my] hockey career. I didn’t experience a sports psychologist until I was 20. I didn’t experience sports nutritionist until I was older. Nowadays, the kids are six and seven-year-olds already being taught about proper hydration and nutrition and dealing with the stresses of competing. They’re exposed to a whole lot more. The training tools nowadays that have been developed are amazing… It does require an investment in time and, at times, it would require possibly some additional funds to do the extra training, but the sky’s the limit in terms of what level of competitiveness they want to reach. I think they have access to all the everything that they need, whether it’s through coaching, through mentors or through training experts, they can certainly reach their dream.

Hear Nathalie Rivard talk more about women’s hockey at the reception at the Orillia Museum of Art and History on Jan. 25. The exhibition “She Shoots… She Scores,” which looks at over 100 years of women breaking barriers in hockey, will run at the Orillia Museum of Art and History from Jan. 25 to April 11. Learn more about the reception and exhibition in the article below.

Orillia Exhibition Highlights Past And Present Women Breaking Barriers In Hockey

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