Professional women’s hockey is new enough to North America that no team has yet recognized a player for such profound contributions that their number has been retired. With the Canadian Women’s Hockey league entering its 12th season and the National Women’s Hockey League entering its fourth, the decision not to retire anyone’s number is a logical one. That honor isn’t just handed out to anybody.
I would have defended this logic up until Noémie Marin retired in September.
First, let’s hit the numbers. Marin retires as the CWHL’s all-time leader in goals, having achieved that mark late last year. She also goes out with 272 career points, good for top-five all-time. Given that most CWHL seasons had somewhere between 15 and 20 games, and that the league has only recently expanded to between 25 and 30 games a season, those are landmark career numbers.
Marin also provided valuable leadership, wearing the “A” for several seasons, and ending in 2015-2016. Under her leadership and that of former captain Cathy Chartrand, the old Montréal Stars became the new Les Canadiennes. Finally, Marin is one of the only members of the Stars/Canadiennes organization to have been on the ice for all four franchise Clarkson Cup victories — in 2009, 2011, 2012, and 2017.
That’s fine and all, but Marin is more than just a record holder and Cup winner.
Because of the toll that balancing a career that pays the bills during the day, team practice at night, and individual training and weightlifting on the weekends, the average post-collegiate women’s hockey career isn’t very long. Kayla Tutino, 2016 first CWHL overall pick, retired on the same day as Marin, having played for two teams over only two years. Comparatively, the Day One rosters of most NWHL programs look vastly different four years later, and not just because of trades and an expansion — the Metropolitan Riveters have only two players on today’s roster who were in the organization four yeas ago (Kiira Dosdall and Madison Packer) and only three players still active in North America (Elena Orlando now plays for the Connecticut Whale).
Those figures are not outliers. This is a sport in which even the most gifted players can burn out and hang up their skates in a short amount of time because the sport is not yet at a full-time professional level.
With this in mind, it’s outstanding that Marin spent nine years with the Stars/Canadiennes organization after graduating from Minnesota-Duluth and a first retirement. On top of that, like all but a few professional women’s hockey players, Marin worked eight or more hours a day to pay her personal and professional bills.
Up until 2017, CWHL players had to spend their own money on skates and sticks. At this level of hockey, a new stick can cost well over a hundred dollars no matter what side of the border you’re shopping on. Marin not only stuck it out, she thrived.
All of this experience and these factors are shared with Marin’s longtime collegiate and professional teammate, Caroline Ouellette. Ouellette is one goal behind Marin in the all-time scoring list. She also joined the Stars in 2008, served as assistant captain, and retired this year with four Clarkson Cup wins to her name. Their careers differ in one major way: Ouellette was a mainstay with the senior Hockey Canada program since 2002.
Marin only wore the maple leaf a handful of times, at the U-22 level.
While Ouellette left the CWHL every four years to win Olympic gold with Canada, it was Marin who stayed in Montréal and held down the fort. Marin didn’t get a break from the two-job hustle of professional women’s hockey every four years. She kept pushing through with the fledgling CWHL, and gave everything she had to this club. Sometimes it paid off, sometimes it didn’t.
Her dedication to this team — to its past as the Stars, to its present as Les Canadiennes, and to its future — should be rewarded with the sport’s highest honor. Maybe Les Canadiennes can get a banner made for her this season. Perhaps they’ll wait for their home opener at the Verdun Auditorium next year, a 4,000-seat arena which has been all but custom-renovated for Les Canadiennes and the fanbase Marin helped to build.
Either way, Noémie Marin has given the best hockey she could play to Montréal — and future Canadiennes will know her story when they step on the ice and see number 10 in the rafters.