Kim St-Pierre, BEd’04, knew she was in the running. As the Hockey Hall of Fame’s selection committee deliberated over who its newest inductees should be, St-Pierre, one of the most celebrated female goaltenders in the history of her sport, couldn’t help but notice that her name kept coming up in the media as a possibility.
The new inductees would be announced on June 24, but as that day wore on with no news, St-Pierre made her peace with the fact that this wouldn’t be her year. Fifteen minutes before the hall was scheduled to make its official announcement, her phone rang. Hockey Hall of Fame chairman Lanny McDonald was on the line to tell St-Pierre that she would be joining the most illustrious names in hockey history (including her childhood hero Patrick Roy) in the hall.
“It is an incredible honour,” says St-Pierre, who will become the eighth woman (and first female goaltender) to be inducted. “I feel so privileged. But it also feels a little weird, because hockey is such a team sport and my teammates were always a huge part of my success.”
It might also feel a little weird for all the people who once told St-Pierre that she had no business playing hockey.
Growing up with athletic parents (her father played a year of minor hockey after being drafted by the New York Rangers; her mother is a gym teacher), St-Pierre took to sports at an early age – gymnastics, figure skating, soccer, softball, swimming. Then, a new sport entered her life.
“My two brothers began playing hockey and I wanted to be with them,” St-Pierre explains. “I got into hockey because of them. My dad always built a really nice ice surface in our backyard in the winter and I got to play some hockey there. When I was eight-years-old, I asked my parents to sign me up for a team. I wondered what their reaction would be, because you didn’t see girls playing hockey back then. But they signed me up.”
St-Pierre spent the rest of her childhood as an anomaly, playing hockey with and against boys. She got noticed – and not always in the best of ways. “It was never easy being the only girl. People would say hockey wasn’t for girls and I shouldn’t be playing or that I was stealing some [boy’s] spot on the team. All the boys I played with were very supportive, but the [boys on] other teams… I didn’t think it was personal. They just wanted to win – and they didn’t want to lose to a girl.
“I learned to block it out, all the negative comments,” says St-Pierre. “It probably helped me become who I am today. I had a lot of confidence in myself. I didn’t let [opponents] get in my head.”
As she got older, the opportunities to play organized hockey began to dry up. “I was almost done playing men’s hockey. I had tried a few times to play for the provincial team in [women’s] hockey, but I was not able to be successful in training camp and I was always released. So basically my hockey career was over.”
Dan Madden, then the general manager of the McGill Martlets hockey squad, paid her a visit after watching her play for her team in Châteauguay. He encouraged her to apply to McGill. According to St-Pierre, that suggestion would end up putting her on the path to the Hall of Fame, but her first impulse was to say no.
“I didn’t speak English. None of my friends were going to McGill. I didn’t want to move away from my family.” And after playing against male competition for years, she wasn’t so sure she wanted to play in a women’s league.
But St-Pierre realized she wasn’t ready to say goodbye to hockey just yet and attending McGill would offer her the chance to play for a few more years.
“Sometimes you’re scared of taking chances, but it ended up being the decision that changed my life,” she says. “I met my husband at McGill. I met my best friend, Amey Doyle, who was the other goalie at McGill. She learned French while I learned English and she is still my best friend today. I met so many of my friends at McGill. And it was while I was playing at McGill that I got involved with the national women’s team and that opened so many doors for me.”
The first year at McGill was a little rough, says St-Pierre, as she navigated a new language and her new surroundings. It also took her a while to get used to playing against women – the style and pace of play wasn’t what she was used to. “My teammates were very patient with me,” she says. “We didn’t win too many games that year.”
That changed in St-Pierre’s second year – she led the team to a silver medal at the national university championships. Thanks in large part to St-Pierre’s play, the Martlets earned bronze medals at the nationals in the next two years. In 2003, she was named Canada’s university female athlete of the year. Along the way, she set 60 new team records for goaltending and was named the club’s MVP four times.
Her stellar play at McGill caught the attention of the national women’s team and St-Pierre would become a key performer in multiple international competitions, helping Team Canada win three Olympic gold medals and five world championships. She was named the top female goalie at the Salt Lake City Olympics in 2002.
Over the course of 13 years with the national women’s team, St-Pierre’s goals-against average was an astoundingly low 1.17 and she is Team Canada’s all-time leader in wins (64) and shutouts (29).
She was also successful as a pro, earning a Clarkson Cup with the Montreal Stars (now known as Les Canadiennes) and being named the top goalie in the Canadian Women’s Hockey League three times.
These days, St-Pierre works as a regional coordinator for BOKS Canada, a national organization that collaborates with schools across the country to come up with programming to encourage kids to take part in physical activities. “It’s the perfect job for me,” says St-Pierre, who majored in kinesiology at McGill. “We’re finding ways to inspire kids to love physical activity.”
To St-Pierre’s delight, her own sons, aged six and eight, are interested in sports. They’re also curious about why so many people have been talking to their mother and congratulating her in recent days.
“They’ve been asking me questions about why am I on TV so much lately. I’m so grateful that they’ll know what I was like as a goalie and what I was able to do.”
Her boys will accompany her during the official induction at the hall – and they might notice that one of her old hockey sticks is already there.
During her final year at McGill, St-Pierre spent part of the season with the men’s hockey team and made history when she became the first female goalie to win a Canadian university hockey game against men. The hall asked to display the stick to mark that accomplishment.
One more piece of evidence, courtesy of Kim St-Pierre, that hockey belongs to women too.