A whirlwind of activity has seen the Olympians sweep through locales such as Pittsburgh, PA – to play their archrivals from the United States in an exhibition game; and Hamilton, ON – where the entire Canadian team was greeted to a standing ovation at the NHL Heritage Classic outdoor game.
During an appearance at a community rink at which they signed autographs and took questions from young minor hockey players, mostly girls, Larocque and Rattray – both of whom are of Metis heritage – reflected on the victory and their experiences as teammates.
“This is the best team I’ve been a part of, and I’ve been playing for 25 years,” Larocque said, “I started bawling as soon as that buzzer went. And to be able to share that with (Rattray), I mean, it's fantastic. We're really close friends and she's somebody that is just the pinnacle of hard work and dedication.”
Larocque, who logged 22:25 of ice time in the gold medal game in Beijing while partnered with Renata Fast on Canada’s top defensive pair, hails from Ste. Anne, MB, a small parish southeast of Winnipeg where the Metis demographic comprises nearly 90 per cent of the Indigenous population.
“It was a fantastic community,” Larocque said. “My grandparents lived nearby. I had a lot of extended family who lived nearby and it was a small town with great people. As a kid I was the only girl my age playing hockey, and I was always encouraged to play. it was just a great place to grow.”
Meanwhile Rattray was raised in Kanata, ON, engaging in her family traditions of storytelling around the home when she wasn’t honing her craft on the rink.
“I didn't have too many Metis people around me,” Rattray said. “But my mom taught me a lot of my heritage. She would just tell me some of her stories as a kid. It’s always fun, just as a family sitting around. My family is pretty small. That’s kind of how I grew up.”
Back in Manitoba, a nine-year-old Larocque drew inspiration from watching the 1998 Olympics hosted in Nagano, Japan, aspiring to one day wear the maple leaf as future teammates Hayley Wickenheiser and Jayna Hefford skated at the first Winter Games to ever feature women’s hockey.
Over a decade later Larocque was in the midst of a stellar career at the University of Minnesota Duluth, winning a national championship in 2010, mere months after being cut from Canada’s Olympic team that went on to claim gold in Vancouver.
She persevered to make the roster in 2014, winning her first Olympic gold medal at the Games in Sochi, then was part of Team Canada’s entry four years later in Pyeongchang that earned silver. The 2010s were practically an embarrassment of riches in terms of ‘Joc’s on-ice success. In 2018 she was the female recipient of the Tom Longboat Award, which recognizes Indigenous athletes for outstanding contributions to sport in Canada.
And in 2021 she was named the Manitoba Indigenous Female Athlete of the Decade.
“I actually didn't have any words. I was so just shocked and I couldn't believe it,” Larocque recalled of the day that she won the latter award. “The lady on the phone who told me, she asked me if I was still there! I just didn't really have words to say. I was just very honoured.
I think it's important to celebrate diversity and it's important that people of all different races, gender, that you never feel like you wouldn't be able to do something because of who you are, and to be proud of where you came from and of your ancestors. I'm definitely proud of my heritage and I hope those awards can inspire others to chase their dreams.”
Rattray, who at 29 is four years Larocque’s junior, has compiled a resume that, while not as extensive as her teammate’s, is impressive in its own right.
In 2014 Rattray won the Patty Kazmaier Award as the top female college hockey player in the United States. That same year she helped the Clarkson Golden Knights win the national championship.
Over the next five years, Rattray earned three silver medals playing for Canada at the Women’s World Championship. She didn’t win her first gold medal with the senior team until 2021, when her opportunistic tendencies provided a foreshadowing of Olympic success. Despite being relegated to fourth-line minutes and playing a scant 9:21 per game, Rattray scored four times in seven games to help end Canada’s nine-year gold medal drought at the tournament.
Fast forward six months later to Beijing, and Rattray – playing a similar fourth-line role in her Olympic debut – registered five goals and nine points in seven outings while averaging a mere 11:22 time on ice per game on route to the top of the podium.
“I've been teammates with ‘Joc’ now for almost eight years, through the (CWHL) Thunder days, and she's the ultimate leader,” Rattray said. “She’s someone who has been my captain on some of those teams. This group of girls was really special and to bring it back home to Canada definitely means the most. The coolest thing is sharing it with everybody and I'm sure it's kind of my favourite part.”
Rattray’s post-Olympic schedule has included a tour with NHL alumni Bryan Trottier, John Chabot and Cody McCormick, all of whom have Indigenous roots.
“We got to kind of tour some communities in Saskatchewan. And that was such a really cool experience, just sharing the medal with those communities and seeing their different heritage. It was definitely really cool hanging out with those guys and hearing their stories as well,” she said.
While Canada’s win in Beijing came at the expense of the United States, both Larocque and Rattray praised the achievement of Abby Roque, who in 2022 became the first American Indigenous woman to play hockey at the Olympics.
“The firsts need to happen so that it becomes more normal,” Larocque said. “(Roque) is going be the first of many, just like I'm the first of many, and just like Brigette Lacquette four years ago, the first First Nations player. Once we get those firsts then it'll just be more normal.
So Abby's just doing another checkmark and it’s a very, very, very important checkmark. I'm proud of her and I think it's important to be acknowledged and it's important to be visible for other young Indigenous girls to be able to look up to her.”
Indeed Larocque, Rattray and Roque have become pioneers that have blazed the trail for another generation of Indigenous players to follow.