BEIJING (Reuters) – Canadian Ann-Renee Desbiens once could not imagine being at the Beijing Olympics, feeling demoralised and failing to see a viable career path in ice hockey, she quit the sport she loved in 2018.
Four years later, she’s the most intimidating goaltender at the Winter Games and playing with a smile on her face.
“I just wasn’t happy any more,” said Desbiens. “So I just decided to go back to school, get a masters in accounting.”
She didn’t stray far, taking up goalie coaching gigs at Hockey Canada and elsewhere – while also building a career in accounting with leading firm Deloitte.
Eighteen months after stepping away, the all-time National Collegiate Athletic Association shutout leader came back into the fold, encouraged by a culture change on the national team.
“We were always kind of stressed and scared to make a mistake (whereas) now it’s just fun. We make a mistake, we brush it off, we go again,” Desbiens told reporters.
With the top save percentage through the women’s preliminary round – stopping 95.88% of shots on goal – it’s safe to say that change in culture is paying off, as Canada look to reclaim gold after having to settle for second place in Pyeongchang.
She saved 51 of 53 American shots on goal in their final preliminary on Tuesday, after holding Switzerland, Finland and Russian Olympic Committee (ROC) to one point each in Canada’s sweep of their group games in Beijing.
“A lot of people make 50-something saves and can make it all about themselves – she found a way to make sure it was all about the team,” said head coach Troy Ryan, who praised the 5’8′ netminder’s leadership on and off the ice.
“She just has that presence about her, she’s fairly big in stature and a lot of big goalies sometimes don’t play big, they’re not comfortable at that.”
She also enjoys plenty of support from her old friends in accounting.
“I had some messages actually from some old coworkers,” said Desbiens. “They’re like, ‘I think you made a good choice’.”
Canada play Sweden in the quarter-finals.
(Reporting by Amy Tennery in Beijing, editing by Ed Osmond)