Growing the Ranks

Written by Safia Ahmad

Nine-year-old London Mann first met Canadian hockey star Mélodie Daoust at a fundraiser organized by the Alberta Junior Hockey League in November 2017 in her hometown of Lloydminster, located on the border of Alberta and Saskatchewan.

Growing up in a tight-knit hockey community, London and her parents were excited to meet the women who were set to represent Canada at the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Games. They hit it off instantly with Daoust.

“We were drawn to her because she is a beauty of a person. Kindness radiates off her,” London’s mother, Lindsay, said.

The Mann’s met up with Daoust once more after Canada defeated the United States 2-1 in overtime during an exhibition game in December 2017. Again, they were in awe of her poise and humanity.

“She reminded me, as an adult, that anything is possible if you believe and if you try to be the best that you can be. As a mom, I just felt like what kind of person wouldn’t want her as an inspiration for your child?”

Seven months later, the Mann’s decided to reunite with Daoust in Quebec. Travelling over 3300 kilometres from Lloydminster, London took part in Daoust’s inaugural hockey camp in Salaberry-de-Valleyfield, a city located south-west of Montreal.

“The big reason that London wanted to go wasn’t necessarily the fact that Mélodie is an Olympian or that she is an amazing hockey player,” Lindsay said. “She wanted to be with her, to learn from her, and to be inspired by her.”

The all-girls camp took place from July 16-21 at the Centres Sportifs Salaberry-de-Valleyfield and featured several prominent hockey players, including Olympians Marie-Philip Poulin, Caroline Ouellette, and Lauriane Rougeau, to name a few.

Daoust and her group of elite trainers spent five days with 25 girls between the ages of six and 16, focusing on “skating technique, stick-handling, shooting and puck protection.” Each station was tailored to the child’s level so that each kid could properly focus on developing her own skill set.

Lindsay noticed significant improvement in her daughter’s skating. She explained that, for the past two years, her and her husband had been trying to help London improve on her turns. At camp, London made strides within three days.

“Mélodie took her aside within the first 45 minutes of camp and had her committed to fixing her turning problem. […] [Overall] I think she’s learned that being committed to working on skill going forward is going to be important for her because that’s the kind of hockey player that she wants to be,” Lindsay said.

 While London was eager to learn from her idol –– “she always tells me to be the best that I can be,” she said, her mother admitted that she was nervous to see Daoust again after some time, but It didn’t take long for London to bury the puck behind the goalie off a drop pass from Daoust.

“You could just tell that it was the highlight of the week,” Lindsay said, laughing. “She was on the same line as Mélodie and she scored. Linemates 2026!”

Mingling with others and speaking French was also daunting for London, her mother said. Within an hour of her first day at camp though, she made new friends. Not only did she forge new bonds, but she also learned to communicate with people of different ages and backgrounds.

“She was skating with kids that were older than her, kids that couldn’t speak her language. I think that was really valuable,” Lindsay said.

Inspiring young girls to pursue their passion for hockey is exactly what Daoust hoped to achieve during her first-ever camp. She looks forward to next year’s camp and will announce the dates in January.

“None of us Olympians would be where we are today without passion,” she said. “Passion for the game comes when you bond with other people who love hockey as much as you do. As Olympians, our role is to pass the torch to the future generation so that they can take over what we started.”

Daoust was driven to start her own camp to give back to her hometown of Valleyfield.

“I think it’s really important to give back to the women’s hockey community, especially in Valleyfield, where the growth of women’s hockey has been slow,” Daoust said. “I hope this camp inspires more girls from here to play hockey moving forward.”

2018 has been an exceptional year for the 26-year-old. The two-time Olympic medallist led Team Canada with seven points (3G, 4A) in Pyeongchang and was named an assistant-coach with U Sports’ Université de Montréal Carabins for the 2018-19 hockey season. The first-round CWHL draft pick is preparing for her debut with Les Canadiennes this upcoming season while taking care of her first newborn child. Adding a hockey camp to her extensive list of responsibilities was a challenge she was willing to proudly take on.

“The camp was a lot of preparation but it combines all my passions so it works out. This year is going to be a big challenge for me in order to coordinate my work and family lives. I’ll be pretty busy! But it’s all about finding a balance between everything so that I can give my 100%.”

London, who plays atom hockey for the Lloydminster Blazers, is part of a growing number of young girls taking part in all-female hockey camps, which relatively new option for female players.

Daoust didn’t have such an option when she was London’s age. She partook in a few camps playing alongside boys. While the prolific goal-scorer rose above the obstacles and became one of the best players in the game today, she recognizes the importance of bringing together young girls so they realize they are not alone in their desire to play sports and be active.

“In Valleyfield, there is a girl who plays hockey with boys and she came to my camp,” explains Daoust. “It’s important for her to realise that she’s not the only girl who plays hockey. I think this experience will have her, and others, see that there are plenty of girls who play hockey and they’ll get to know each other. That’s the beauty of small town hockey camps.”

Lindsay Mann echoes Daoust’s sentiment.

“Up until this point, the only hockey players London’s been connected to are in the NHL,” she said.  “Seeing yourself as a potentially elite athlete doesn’t occur to you when you watch men. For the first time ever, she looks at hockey in a different way. She trains harder, she wants to run, she wants to skate, she wants to practice. She’s out taking shots every night and it’s not because she wants to show off. She is determined to be the best that she can be and it’s because Mélodie has told her so.”