This is the 13th in a series of articles honoring the 20 players who have been selected to the WCHA's 20th anniversary all-time team. This week's honoree is Caroline Ouellette, a forward who played at Minnesota Duluth from 2002-03 to 2005-06.
By Bill Brophy
When Caroline Ouellette glided around the Duluth Entertainment and Convention Center from 2002 through 2006, it was among the halcyon days for Minnesota Duluth and their hockey fans.
"It was a nightmare for goalies," said Shari Dickerman, an all-American goaltender at Minnesota State where she is still an assistant coach. "She was big and strong and could really shoot it. I used to say she played like a guy. Now people would probably be offended by that. I only say it because she had such a good shot. When Shannon (Miller, the legendary UMD coach) put her out there with Jenny Potter, a goalie had no chance."
Since moving on from UMD, Ouellette has established herself as one of the greatest women's hockey players. She is the all-time leading scorer in the Canadian Women's Hockey League and is one of only three women to win the Clarkson Cup as the CWHL playoff champion, an Olympic gold medal and an IIHF Women's World Championship gold medal. Ouellette is one of only five athletes to win gold in four consecutive Olympics. She also has won 12 medals (six gold and six silver) at the IIHF world championships.
But the power forward left her mark in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association long before she became a marquee player in international hockey.
Jeff Giesen was an assistant coach at St. Cloud State when Ouellette was among the league's top players. He remembers head coach Jason Lesterberg encouraging to defend the big, power forward when a woman sitting behind the Huskies' bench leaned over the glass at the DECC and told the coach, "You can't stop her."
It was the UMD chancellor. She was right.
Ouellette ranks third on the Bulldog career scoring list with 227 points over just 97 games in her three-year career. She scored 31 goals in her first year, 29 as a sophomore and 32 in her final season.
In 2003, Ouellette helped the Bulldogs beat Harvard at the DECC and win their third NCAA national championship. Caroline was named most valuable player of the Frozen Four and the WCHA Final Faceoff. She was an all-American in 2004 and 2005 and a finalist for the Patty Kazmaier Award, the Heisman Trophy of women's hockey.
"She was just a beast," said Giesen, now an associate head coach at Minnesota State.
"Not only was she big, but she could skate around the corner and she could shoot," said Dickerman who went on to play with Ouellette for a season with the Minnesota Whitecaps while Ouellette was serving as an assistant coach at UMD.
"I liked being her teammate more than playing against her," said Dickerman with a chuckle.
"As a person, she is as quiet as church mouse, like a Sunday school teacher. She is so sweet. But put her in gear, the competitive piece comes out. She is as competitive as anyone I've seen."
Ouellette was not only gracious, but a good student. The Montreal, Quebec native was named the WCHA Student-Athlete of the Year in 2005 and was named UMD's top scholar athlete in the entire athletic department.
"I loved every moment of my experience in the WCHA with UMD," Ouellette wrote in an email after being notified that she had added been named one of the 20 top players in the league's first 20 years. She also was a member of the WCHA's all-decade team 10 years ago.
Ouellette, now 39, is married to Julie Chu, one of the best American-born women's players who played at Harvard. Last month Ouellette was named an associate head coach of Les Canadiennes, the Montreal-based team she played for until retiring last season. She also was an assistant coach with Canada's national women's team program, recently coaching at the Four Nations Cup.
"She played with some really good players in her first years," said Dickerman about Ouellette's college career. "Then she had to do more things on those teams in her final years.
"She made people around her better. She was just a great player."
About the WCHA 20th Anniversary Team
As it celebrates 20 Years of Excellence during the 2018-19 season, the Women's League of the Western Collegiate Hockey Association (WCHA) will honor the 20 alumnae named to the WCHA 20th Anniversary Team. The team will be revealed, one-by-one, in alphabetical order, one per week (except for the week of Dec. 24) through the week of March 4, prior to the 2019 WCHA Final Faceoff.
From an initial list of 120 nominations, representing each of the league's all-time eight schools, the WCHA 20th Anniversary Team Committee selected 41 finalists. To be nominated a player (forward, defenseman or goaltender) must have completed her collegiate eligibility at a WCHA institution (nominees did not have to play a full four seasons in the WCHA; however, current student-athletes were not eligible).
The WCHA 20th Anniversary team was determined by 1/3 fan vote, 1/3 WCHA alumnae vote and 1/3 Committee vote (consisting of two WCHA Office staff, one former and two current head coaches and three alumnae).
Other WCHA 20th Anniversary Team members:
Monique Lamoureux-Morando and Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson