After Canada’s loss in the final of this year’s World Championships, Sarah Vaillancourt retired from the Canadian Women’s National team. Vaillancourt has been a star in women’s hockey since she first stepped out on the ice at the Bright Center on the campus of Harvard University. She was awarded the Patty Kazmaier award as the nation’s top college player in 2008 as a junior after being one of the top ten finalist as a sophomore. As a senior she she was named ECAC player of the year. Oh yeah, and she came out to the world as a freshman.
Her sterling college career was just the start for Vaillancourt. She won Olympic Gold Medals with the Canadian National team in 2006 and 2010. She played in six World Championships with Canada and won Gold in 2007. She contributed 98 points (45 goals, 53 assists) in her 107 game career with Canada.
Sadly, due to a hip injury and multiple sports hermias she hasn’t played a full season with the team since 2010. The hip injury, a torn labrum, which required surgery is incredibly painful. I had the same injury my senior year of college and nursed it for the entire season before having surgery. It was so painful that it required me not to practice most of the week so that I could be mobile enough to dress for games. After each weekend of games, it took the remainder of each week to recover. The fact that she was experiencing that sort of pain and competing at such a high level and was still good enough to make an Olympic team that won Gold tells me something about her heart.
We shouldn’t be surprised at her courage. When she came out at Harvard she expressed the attitude that she was a lesbian and if her team didn’t like it she would leave. How many of us would have been able to make such a statement as the new kid on campus? While my college hockey career, and tally of out teammates on Facebook, tells me that there are plenty of lesbians in the sport, Vaillancourt was one of the few who was out to everyone. As Megan Rapinoe and Brittney Griner have reminded us, many lesbians live openly for years without making a declaration to the world about their sexuality. But in coming out to the media, both Griner and Rapinoe have given the younger generation role models in both how to be excellent in their sports and how to be proud of who you are. Vaillancourt has been that role model for many young, lesbian, hockey players for years. I only hope that someone in women’s hockey steps forward, perhaps someone who has been living openly all along, and makes the kind of declaration we have seen from Vaillancourt. Because the sport may not appear as welcoming to youngsters who, like Doug Dorsey, love the smell of the ice but worry there isn’t a spot for a lesbian on the team.
It’s sad that Vaillancourt’s injuries have hastened her retirement from the National Team. she notes that perhaps she could have pushed through and made it to the Olympics in Sochi, but worried about the cost to her future. She will continue to play for the Montreal Stars of the Canadian Women’s Hockey League and pursue a Master’s Degree at the University of Sherbrooke, Quebec where she lives with her girlfriend, Renee-Claude Chevarie.
Thank you, Sarah, for showing us that there is a place in women’s hockey for out players. The women’s game, and all hockey fans (even those who cheer for the U.S.), will miss you.