The University of Calgary Dinos athletic department trusted me enough to write profiles about each inductee into the Dinos Hall of Fame, Class of 2017. I’ll post the profiles I wrote as they get released over the next two weeks. It was a pleasure to work with the university. I am very thankful for their trust.
Life is filled with forks in the road. For Olympic champion Kelly Bechard, three critical decisions changed her hockey career forever.
Growing up in Sedley, Sask., Bechard decided to move to Calgary to attend the University of Calgary to play for the Dinos and the Calgary Oval X-Treme of the Western Women’s Hockey League, all with the dream of one day suiting up for her country at the Olympic level.
It was the easiest of her three decisions, but still a little dicey. The X-Treme was in their second year of existence and the Dinos were breaking ground on their inaugural campaign.
“It was a time when women’s hockey was beginning to evolve. There was a lot of mystery surrounding the sport, but the country began to develop strong university programs and the sport began to take off,” said Bechard.
“I definitely remember that first year the fondest.”
Bechard was the first captain for the Dinos and captured the Canada West bronze, as they blitzed the University of Saskatchewan Huskies 5-1 in the consolation final. She was named a tournament all-star and was flown out to Montreal to celebrate the national championship.
“As a coach, she was the dream player to have; she could play on every line, offensively she was gifted, a good passer and she was conscious on the defensive side,” said Danielle Goyette, Bechard’s teammate from 1998-2007 with the X-Treme.
While she didn’t get named to the roster for the 1998 Olympics in Nagano, Japan, Bechard’s stock was only beginning to rise. She began putting in serious work, playing and training with the Dinos, X-Treme, U22 national team and the senior national team — all in the same season.
In Bechard’s third season with the scarlet and gold for the 1999-2000 campaign, she reached the Canada West final for the second-straight year. And for the second-straight year, the University of Alberta Pandas clipped the Dinos 3-2. Bechard recorded nine points in eight games that season.
“Kelly was always dangerous with the puck. She was good around the net, played smart and saw the ice well,” said Julie Healy, Dinos head coach for the 1999-2000 season.
Other universities were beginning to grumble about the Dinos having club players on the school team. The second-biggest decision of her career was coming down the pipe.
The league voted and it was determined that university players were not allowed to play for their school and the club team in the same season.
“It was an incredibly difficult decision,” said Bechard, recalling the choice to leave the Dinos to play full time with the X-Treme. “I was a mess, I had to leave my teammates and friends — I’m still sad to this day, but I had to decide what was best for me and my goal of making the Olympics.”
Playing two seasons strictly with the X-Treme, Bechard was able to train and be on the ice more often, ultimately reaping the rewards down the road. She was sharing the ice daily with Olympic icons Hayley Wickenheiser and Cassie Campbell.
Her career with the X-Treme was coming along nicely as well. Eventually, she went on to win the Abby Hoffman Cup in 1998, 2001 and 2003 with the X-Treme and then again with the Toronto Aeros in 2007.
REALIZING THE DREAM
After two seasons playing solely with the X-Treme, her Olympic dream finally came true.
“I couldn’t have made the national team if it wasn’t for the X-Treme and the Dinos, preparing me for the Olympic level,” said Bechard.
Bechard was a key contributor on the gold medal winning team that downed Team USA 3-2 at the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympics.
Following the dog pile and medal ceremony, Bechard hung out in the locker room with her teammates and didn’t leave the premises for hours. Eventually, Bechard headed over to the Canada House, where family and friends greeted the team to a hero’s welcome.
“I am fortunate to have several amazing hockey highlights, obviously, Salt Lake was the highlight of my career. Looking back, it was all about the journey along the way, spending that time with teammates and growing as a player from one year to the next,” said Bechard.
After the glow of the Olympics wore off, Bechard was faced with her third decision. An injury forced her to miss the 2006 Olympics in Torino. She was still ripping it up with the X-Treme, but came to grips with her career ending after 2008, despite the 2010 Olympics only two years down the road on home soil.
“Getting ready for the Olympics is an emotional rollercoaster. At that point, I was having my doubts and I wanted to move onto the next chapter and other career ambitions. I didn’t have the same desire I used to,” said Bechard.
Playing with the national team since 2000, Bechard captured four golds and two silvers while at different IIHF world tournaments.
FROM PLAYER TO COACH
She reconnected with a former Olympic teammate and a teammate on the X-Treme, Goyette, who took over the head coaching job with the Dinos in 2007.
“After playing a long time with her, I knew she would be a good coach one day,” said Goyette. “She is very knowledgeable about the game, being exposed to so many different systems with the national team. It was important for me to have an assistant coach that understood the same systems that I was trying to put in place.”
Bechard stuck with the Dinos for five seasons and was behind the bench when the Dinos captured the 2012 national championship, the first in school history.
The Dinos iced the Université de Montréal Carabins 5-0 in the final.
After serving as an interim head coach for the 2013-14 season while Goyette worked with the Olympic team, Bechard left the Dinos following season.
Now embracing her career with Scotiabank full-time, Bechard uses the lessons she learned with the Dinos to help power her career in the banking world.
“There were so many parallels that I leaned on from my playing days that helped me as a coach and in the working world. Things like, having an internal drive is crucial in anything you set out to accomplish,” said Bechard.
She is the first women’s hockey player inducted into the Dinos Hall of Fame.
Photos courtesy of the University of Calgary athletic department.