P.E.I. Canada Games ringette team celebrates historic 4th-place finish on home ice
Head coach Francois Caron knew that the P.E.I. ringette team was going to make history one way or another in the bronze-medal game at the 2023 Canada Winter Games.
Ringette teams from the Island had never finished higher than ninth in previous Canada Games, and had never won more than one game.
On Saturday afternoon, P.E.I. fought hard against Saskatchewan, coming back from a 3-1 deficit at the halfway point to tie the game 4-4. But Saskatchewan scored in overtime to take the bronze medal.
"Fourth is a huge jump from ninth," said Caron. "And if you look at some of the provinces that will finish behind us at this Canada Games, it's pretty remarkable where we're at.
"It was very historic. The ringette program at the Canada Games since 2003, we've only won one game."
If you look at some of the provinces that will finish behind us at this Canada Games, it's pretty remarkable
—Francois Caron, head coach
He said it is also "pretty big" for P.E.I. team sports generally.
"Major team sports, with five or more people on a field or ice at the same time, P.E.I. has only ever won one medal in those types of sports."
Years of building
Caron credits Ringette P.E.I. for getting the Canada Games program to the point where the Island team could contend.
"Over the last seven or eight years, they've built the high-performance program where now there's two and three teams at each age level," Caron said.
"And so we've got a much bigger group of athletes who are staying involved a lot longer, and I think that kind of set the platform for it."
Caron said that the ringette team also has more players the same age as other players, which isn't always the case for Island teams at the Games.
"We have a group of athletes this time that were almost all the top age, which generally isn't a reality for most P.E.I. teams at the Canada Games just because of our numbers," Caron said.
"At the last Canada Games for instance, we only had three people in that top age group. This year, we've got 16 out of our 18 players in that age group. So, I think that makes a big difference."
There are five ringette associations on P.E.I. and the Canada Games team included participants from four of them, Caron said, including two from Summerside, six from Charlottetown, three from Montague and seven from Souris.
He said having 10 players from the eastern part of the Island added to the home-ice advantage for the games that were held in Montague.
"One of the things that we've tried to do as part of our plan is we've practised every Tuesday night in Montague knowing that the majority of our games would be there," Caron said.
"We knew that rink, inside and out, and every game has been packed and the fans have been absolutely wonderful."
Caron said the fans at the games have included many young ringette players, who he hopes will be inspired by what they saw.
"One of the goals that our team had set for ourselves this year was to show future ringette players that it's possible to compete with the bigger provinces," Caron said.
"Those players now grow up seeing that if a group works really hard and plays together, there is a good possibility that they can take on the bigger provinces."
Caron said it has also been special to share the experience at these Canada Games with his two daughters: Natalie and Andrea.
Natalie Caron was the top scorer in the tournament with nine goals.
"It's really exciting. I have to give my teammates a lot of credit because it is a team sport and I've gotten some really good passes that I've just been lucky enough to put in the back of the net," Natalie said.
"In 2019, I went to the Canada Games and I didn't score a single goal. I don't even think I got a single point."
Natalie said watching her team come back to tie the bronze-medal game was amazing.
'Right now it kind of stings. It's a tough loss losing in overtime," she said.
"But I think when we reflect on it, we will be really proud of ourselves on how finishing top-four in the country is amazing, especially for a small province like P.E.I.
I think when we reflect on it, we will be really proud of ourselves on how finishing top-four in the country is amazing,
—Natalie Caron, Team PEI
Andrea Caron said she's happy that her team's performance is inspiring younger ringette players on Prince Edward Island.
"I know that we've meant so much to them. They're always shaking our hands. We've had to sign so many little flags and posters for them," Andrea said.
"They really look up to us, and it just means so much that they're able to see what we can achieve."
Jo-anne Wallace, P.E.I.'s chef de mission, was impressed by the team's performance.
"Of course we're disappointed, but not disappointed by the way they played, and the efforts they put into it. It was actually a fabulous game, losing an overtime in a bronze medal," Wallace said.
Wallace said she's happy with Team P.E.I.'s accomplishments as the first week of the Canada Games wraps up.
"Everybody loves the glitter and the metal, but I'm OK with the performances that our team is making. I'm very, very proud of them."