Saturday, 25 October 2014

Montreal Stars drafted a gem in Vanessa Gagnon but real world takes precedence

As the last two CWHL drafts have seen the Montreal Stars build towards the future, hoping a new generation of players such as first-round picks Lauriane Rougeau and Kim Deschenes can emulate the Clarkson Cup glories of years past, one of its building blocks should have come in Vanessa Gagnon.

Selected in the second round by the Stars, she was one of four members of the Clarkson Golden Knights to declare for the draft. Clarkson’s other three players were all selected by the Brampton Thunder, in an effort to renew their status as a championship contender. 

Unfortunately, the realities of economy and employment temporarily put a hold on Gagnon's hockey ambitions. Of note, Clarkson fans cannot help but feel disappointment as Montreal’s first game against Brampton takes place on November 15 at Century Gardens. Had Gagnon suited up, it would have likely been an emotional game for all Clarkson alumnae involved.  

Part of Clarkson’s historic Class of 2014 (which included Shelby Nisbet, Vanessa Plante, Brittany Styner, along with Brampton picks Erica Howe, Carly Mercer and Jamie Lee Rattray), Vanessa Gagnon ended her NCAA career in storybook fashion, winning the NCAA Frozen Four over national powerhouse Minnesota, tallying eight points in the tourney.

Complementing this landmark win for Clarkson was the fact that Gagnon was bestowed the honor of the Elite 89 Award at the tourney. Of note, it is an annual honor presented to the student-athlete with the highest cumulative grade-point average competing in the finals. As the objective of the award is to honor an individual that has reached the pinnacle of competition at a national championship level while managing to reach high academic standards, it was an award most worthy of Gagnon.

As a side note, Clarkson’s senior class accumulated a sparkling win percentage of .674 during their four years, complemented by a pair of NCAA Tournament appearances.  

Named an assistant captain for her senior season, Gagnon was an invaluable member for the green and gold. She was definitely one of those players whose efforts were crucial in brining a winning attitude to the proud Clarkson program. The hardware she would accumulate by the end of her senior season was testament to such efforts.

Having graduated from Clarkson during her junior season with an undergraduate degree in Innovation and Entrepreneurship, she would work on a master’s degree during her senior season. With a 3.95 GPA, she was one of only two student-athletes in Clarkson’s MBA program to have a GPA so high.

Inducted into the highest of Clarkson’s business school honor societies, Gagnon also became the first Clarkson female hockey player to gain CoSIDA Academic honors. In 2013, Gagnon was named to the first-team of the 2013 CoSIDA/Capital One Women's At-Large Academic All-Region team.

Also the recipient of the Booster Club’s Unsung Hero Award in 2013 and 2014, this team award recognizes the player who puts the team first while serving as a role model for teammates and community alike.

She helped organize the Lil’ Knights Club outings, while also helping to organize a partnership with Helping Hands in the Community.
She has also partnered with members of Clarkson’s faculty to help develop the micro-financing of projects in Uganda, Africa, where Gagnon visited in May 2014, as part of an initiative for screening and training support.

Such efforts also resulted in winning the Mandi Schwartz Student-Athlete of the Year Award, which honors the life of the former Yale Bulldogs player who sadly lost her battle with cancer.

Another award which pays tribute to a fallen hockey hero is presented jointly between ECAC Hockey and Hockey East, making all players from both conferences eligible. The Sarah Devens Award, whose criterion includes the "demonstration of leadership and commitment both on and off the ice.”, also includes a postgraduate scholarship of $10,000, which Gagnon earned in 2014.

ECAC Hockey also recognized Gagnon as the winner of the Best Defensive Forward award. Her +43 plus/minus rating was complemented by 33 points, on the strength of 18 goals, of which five were game winning tallies. Her value to the team was even more important in the face-off circle, as she won 64% of her draws. In addition, she was ECAC Hockey’s representative for the 2014 NCAA Woman of the Year.

Her devotion to community service and helping the less fortunate would have definitely reminded hardcore Montreal fans of another remarkable Stars player whose contributions as a hockey humanitarian are well-known; Caroline Ouellette. It was that kind of maturity and off-ice leadership that should have made Gagnon an integral part of the Stars’ long-term plans.

As the game still grows, one of its biggest challenges is ensuring that its players can make a living from the game. For Montreal, Gagnon would have been a perfect fit. From strong skills as a sniper, who could have definitely complemented the likes of Emmanuelle Blais and Dangerous Dominique Thibault, Gagnon could have brought value to the squad as a penalty-killer.

Although there is always a chance that Gagnon may return next fall, there is no question that her articulate and inspiring demeanor certainly made an impression on the Stars franchise. 

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