Hockey tale of love, hate

First Na­tions prod­uct Lac­quette dis­cov­ered both early on

The Province - - SPORTS | OLYMPICS -

PYEONGCHANG — As far back as she can re­mem­ber, Brigette Lac­quette was push­ing her fa­ther, Ter­rence, to put her into or­ga­nized hockey.

The only hockey rink in tiny Mal­lard, Man., near the Water­hen First Na­tions re­serve, was the one Ter­rence built in the fam­ily yard.

Or­ga­nized hockey meant sev­eral long drives per week over snowy, wind­blown gravel roads, to the clos­est in­door rink in Win­nipego­sis.

But at the age of five, Brigette was al­ready on a mis­sion.

“I had to beg my dad to put me into hockey and once he saw how much I loved it and how de­ter­mined I was, he had to put me in,” Brigette says.

It didn’t take long for both fa­ther and daugh­ter to re­al­ize she was very good. As she grew older, she needed to travel far­ther to play the game and get the kind of com­pe­ti­tion she re­quired.

Brigette and Ter­rence made trips to Win­nipeg or Bran­don to play in tour­na­ments and that’s when the wide-eyed young de­fence­man en­coun­tered some­thing she hadn’t ex­pected.

Hate.

“That’s when I first started to face racism,” the 25-yearold says. “I was bul­lied when I was younger. I had a skin con­di­tion and that was pretty tough on my con­fi­dence.”

The racism came from all sides — op­po­nents and team­mates alike, fans in the stands, par­ents of other play­ers.

There were times when the temp­ta­tion to quit was there but Ter­rence wasn’t about to let a few words get in the way of his daugh­ter’s promis­ing ca­reer.

“To have my dad there with me made it OK,” Lac­quette says. “Think­ing back to that mo­ment, the first time I faced it, it was crazy to me. I had never ex­pe­ri­enced it and it caught me off guard.

“My dad told me just to beat them on the ice and fo­cus on my­self. Those were the words that I’ve lived by.”

Those words have taken her a long way. On Sun­day, Lac­quette will be­come the first First Na­tions player to ever suit up for Canada’s women’s hockey team at the Olympics.

“It’s truly an honour,” Lac­quette says. “I’m su­per ex­cited to rep­re­sent my First Na­tions peo­ple and my fam­ily. I’ve had some ob­sta­cles to go through to get to where I am to­day.”

Lac­quette gets emo­tional just talk­ing about the sub­ject. It’s hard for any­one to make it to this level, con­sid­er­ably harder for some­one from a re­mote First Na­tions com­mu­nity of 120 peo­ple. Mal­lard is about four hours north­west of Win­nipeg and

I was bul­lied when I was younger. I had a skin con­di­tion andthat­was pretty tough on my con­fi­dence. Brigette La­que­tte

an hour north of Dauphin, Man.

There have only been a hand­ful of Cana­dian Indige­nous ath­letes at the win­ter Olympics over the years and even fewer who pri­mar­ily iden­tify as be­ing First Na­tions.

In Lac­quette’s case, her First Na­tions her­itage was both a road­block and a driv­ing force. The game of hockey was her ve­hi­cle.

“I found hockey and sports were al­ways kind of my out,” Lac­quette says. “I was a tom boy grow­ing up so I played ev­ery sport pos­si­ble, but hockey was kind of my thing and it made me feel like I was in a place where I could es­cape from ev­ery­thing.”

Stand­ing on the ice, paired on de­fence with as­sis­tant cap­tain Jo­ce­lyne Larocque on Sun­day, Lac­quette ad­mits she will be think­ing of her fam­ily, the ones who pushed her to per­se­vere.

Ter­rence will be there, as will her mother, Anita. Back home, sis­ter Tara and brother Taren — Tara played hockey at the Univer­sity of Man­i­toba, Taren plays in the Man­i­toba Ju­nior Hockey League — will be keep­ing a close eye.

“My par­ents are su­per pumped and I’m ex­cited for them,” Brigette says. “They were like ‘Wow, you are at the Olympics’ but I feel like we all achieved this dream to­gether and I’m so glad they are go­ing to be here too.

“It was a to­tal fam­ily ef­fort. My brother, my sis­ter, my par­ents and ex­tended fam­ily as well. My un­cles helped a lot too, driv­ing me to prac­tice when my par­ents couldn’t.

“This was just my path to get here and they were all a part of it.”

GETTY IM­AGES

Brigette Lac­quette (sec­ond from left) poses yes­ter­day with Bai­ley Bram (17), Natalie Spooner and Genevieve La­casse.

TED WYMAN

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