Leslie Oles and Katia Clément-Heydra formed a dynamic duo on the McGill Martlets hockey team this past season. After the team went undefeated in regular season play, Clément-Heydra finished with 45 points, second only to teammate Mélodie Daoust in the country, while Oles tallied 36 points—good for sixth highest in the nation. The Tribune had the opportunity to sit down with these two bright, young talents to discuss hockey, school, and the disappointingly early exit from the RSEQ playoffs.
McGill Tribune: How long have you been playing hockey? Tell us about the state of women’s hockey at a youth level.
Leslie Oles: I’ve played since I was four. I played other sports, but when I got to 15 or 16 years old, hockey just took up too much time, so I needed to make a decision. [As for] women’s hockey, it’s definitely getting bigger. Growing up, I played with the men up to two years after they were allowed to stop hitting, at about 14 or 15. That’s probably why I have the most penalty minutes in the league.
Katia Clément-Heydra: Same for me. Growing up, I was the only girl playing hockey in my city [St. Bruno, Quebec]. I stopped playing with the men when they started hitting. But today, more [women] are playing, and we are starting to see totally devoted leagues.
MT: Obviously, this season didn’t end the you hoped it would. How did it feel to lose only two games all year—when they were the two most important?
KCH: Worst feeling ever. Deception, sadness … it was bad. It will always be with us, until next year. But now, we’re even more pumped up for next year. It’s hard being on top for so long.
LO: Yeah, we’re just going to use it to our advantage. We’re not going to sit at home and cry about it all summer. We lost a lot of key players after the past two years—[Cathy] Chartrand, and Charline [Labonte]. We had a really young team, and I don’t think people expected us to have an undefeated season. Looking at that, it is a big accomplishment.
MT: Did the fact that the Montreal Carabins went on to win the National Championships change your outlook?
KCH: It’s bittersweet. Yes, the team we lost to is the best. Yet, at the same time, we knew that if we had beaten them, we would have won. So it definitely makes it bittersweet.
LO: It’s also good for our league too. I watched a couple of the CIS games, and it just kind of felt that the announcers were saying things that made the [RSEQ] sound weak, and then Montreal went on to win.
MT: Last year, the team won bronze; and two years ago, you won Nationals. Did pressure play a role at all in not getting there this time?
KCH: It was the first time in 12 years that we didn’t make it. The last two games were different from any other in the league. There was a big crowd, and they were all [supporting the Carabins]. In our own rink, Montreal had three times the number of fans. It was a big draw for them.
LO: I think we should have won Game 2 though. We came out and were winning 2-0, and we just started missing empty nets. I don’t know; that was ours to win. Then, they gained momentum and that was it.
MT: Individually, you both dominated this year. How does that factor in when you look back on the year?
KCH: It was fun, but we’re more focused on the results as a team. The end product wasn’t where we wanted it to be; so when I look back, I don’t think of how many points I had. I just really focus on what I need to do even better next year to get to where we want to be.
LO: Of course you don’t look back and think, ‘I got how many ever points,’ or ‘I won this award,’ because in the end, you’re not going to look back and say, ‘In 2013 I made the all-star team.’ No; you look back and say, ‘We won a national championship.’ You always see where you were at as a team.
MT: Does Head Coach Peter Smith demand a lot from you?
KCH: He’s like a father figure. He can be very strict, but at the same time, he is so nice and generous to us. He expects the best, both as a player and as a person.
LO: He does demand a lot, on the ice, off the ice, and in school. But he really just wants to maximize the potential of all his athletes. Even in school, he cares about everything. You find some coaches that all they care about is hockey; but he wants to make you a better person.
MT: How do you go about balancing being an athlete, while still maintaining a full course load?
KCH: My first year was tough; being French speaking was tough. But now I find that when hockey is done, I have so much time. When hockey is on, you just have to make time to study.
LO: Sometimes, it’s almost easier during hockey season, because you build a routine and make sacrifices. They’re not true sacrifices because we’re doing something we love. But you really have to manage your time, and do things you don’t necessarily want to do.
MT: I know some of the Martlets after graduation have gone on to play in the professional women’s league, often for the Montreal Stars. Is that something you see yourself doing after your McGill days are done?
LO: I will definitely be involved in hockey for the rest of my life, and I would love to continue playing. It’s small right now—[the league has] just five teams—but definitely growing. It will be hard for them next year, because all of the players will be going to the Olympics, but the year after that I don’t see why they wouldn’t expand.
KCH: Same for me. Whether it is coaching or playing, I will still be around hockey. The women’s league is starting to generate more and more attention now, even within the media. NHL teams are starting to budget them, like Calgary and Edmonton. But we’re still waiting for the Habs to get in with the Stars.
MT: What’s your favourite NHL team? And is there a certain professional player whose playing style you associate with?
LO: The Canadiens. And I like [Brendan] Gallagher. He kind of reminds me of myself. He goes hard to [the] net, wins his battles and is fearless, never backs down.
KCH: The Habs. I would say Jonathan Toews. Good all-around.
MT: Former Martlets Cathy Chartrand and Ann-Sophie Bettez made a video to try-out for Amazing Race Canada. Did you see the video? How would they fare?
LO: Yeah, it was awesome. They should make it; they’d win for sure. They’re the most competitive people I know.
KCH: I really hope they’re chosen. They’d be good on that show. So competitive, and really funny too.