Eve Gascon didn’t get a win on the ice Saturday, but she definitely felt like a winner.
Gascon became just the third female player to play in the QMJHL as she followed in the footsteps of Manon Rheaume and Charline Labonte, who both reached out to Gascon earlier this week to wish her well.
Olympic champion Marie-Philip Poulin also sent her best wishes.
The amount of attention was a little surreal for Gascon, but she did her best to soak it all in and enjoy the moment.
The 18-year-old made 18 saves for the Gatineau Olympiques in a 5-4 overtime loss to the Rimouski Oceanic in front of a sold-out crowd of 4,700 at the Center Slush Puppie, a first for the new facility.
“I can’t even begin to describe what I was feeling,” said Gascon. “I had my best friends and family in the crowd so it was really special; it was a great moment. I’m going to remember this for the rest of my life.”
Gascon admitted she expected to get some attention when the Olympiques announced she would start Saturday, but she said it surpassed her expectations and was a little overwhelming at times.
The atmosphere in the building was electric and the crowd cheered loudly as Gascon was given the full rookie treatment as her teammates allowed her a solo lap prior to warm-ups.
Gascon didn’t initially realize she was alone and once she did, she just wanted to make sure she didn’t fall down.
Olympiques captain Manix Landry said the team was disappointed they couldn’t get the win for Gascon.
“We all knew this was a historical game for junior hockey and women’s hockey,” said Landry. “It would have been nice for Eve and for us to get the win.”
‘It was an incredible experience’
There was little doubt as to who the crowd was here to see.
“I definitely wasn’t expecting that kind of reaction from the crowd,” admitted Gascon. “It was an incredible experience even though it wasn’t the result we were looking for.”
In a strange coincidence Gascon was facing a childhood friend at the opposite end of the ice. She and Oceanic goalie Gabriel Robert came through minor hockey together and wished each other well as they stretched along the boards at center ice during warm-ups.
In an ideal world Gascon had been hoping to ease into the game with a few shots, but instead she waited eight minutes for the first and it was a great shot from the slot by Julien Beland to open the scoring.
Gascon likely wanted the third goal back as Luke Coughlin was able to put one past her on the power play from just inside the blue line in the second period.
Gatineau tied the game 3-3 early in the third and Gascon seemed to have found her groove and had the crowd chanting her name.
The Olympiques didn’t make things easy as they took eight penalties, including one with 1:41 remaining in regulation, but Gascon was able to make a couple big saves and force overtime.
‘As the game went on, the stronger she got’
“As the game went on, the stronger she got,” said Olympiques head coach Louis Robitaille. “When we got the lead in the third we saw her make some big saves and the crowd was chanting her name. I’m so proud of how she handled everything.”
The Olympiques took the lead at the seven-minute mark of the third, but Rimouski tied it on a goal that was tipped in front, leaving Gascon little chance of stopping it. To the disappointment of the home team and the crowd, Gatineau lost in overtime with Xavier Cormier netting the winner 1:10 into OT.
“I can’t say it enough of how proud I am of her,” said Robitaille. “This was tough. All the media attention, the crowd, it’s a lot. I told her to go out and enjoy it.”
Gascon, who was the first female player to play midget triple-A hockey in Quebec, was called up by the Olympiques last week from the St-Laurent Patriotes of the CEGEP men’s league. She is filling in for injured Gatineau starter Remi Poirier.
Poirier isn’t expected back for at least two weeks, but Gascon’s future remains unclear. She’ll remain with the team for Sunday’s rematch against the Oceanic and will then likely return to school. Rules prohibit her from spending more than 48 hours with the team. This past week was an exception as she was on spring break.
Robitaille hinted that they would likely bring her back, but wouldn’t commit as neither he nor Gascon want her to miss too much school.