Chosen in the first round of the 2016 CWHL Draft by Les Canadiennes de Montréal, Boston University product Sarah Lefort is predicted to have a high ceiling for last year’s Clarkson Cup finalists, possibly even pushing the team past a Clarkson Cup Final berth and to their first victory since 2012. Although Lefort was drafted by both the NWHL and the CWHL, she made the decision to return to Canada and try her hand on Les Canadiennes, a team studded with names also rostered on Team Canada.
A gifted shooter, Lefort broke BU teammate and Team Canada dynamo Marie-Philip Poulin’s scoring record on the Terriers, and demonstrated her first-line abilities time and again throughout her collegiate career, even making the roster for last year’s Canadian roster at the Four Nations Cup. She hopes to earn a spot on not just Les Canadiennes but on Team Canada’s Olympic roster for the 2018 Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
Lefort spoke via telephone with Today’s Slapshot about her preliminary experiences with Les Canadiennes, her shooting prowess and what shape her upcoming journey with Team Canada will take.
Kate Cimini for Today’s Slapshot: What has selection camp has been like for you?
Sarah Lefort, Les Canadiennes de Montréal: Well, this past weekend we had our two ice sessions, both Saturday and Sunday, as well as our off-ice session with the team. It was just cool because, we had two practices prior just to get on the ice and everything, but it was cool to finally see everybody and come together as a team.
What stands out in your mind about the camp?
Just meeting the legends. Caroline Ouellette, Julie Chu, Charline Labonté. It’s just kind of incredible to be not only testing beside them but also on the ice with them. I grew up watching them play and it’s just something to be on the ice alongside many good players.
For me, just going into the weekend, I try to pick up on little things that they can teach me; they’ve been around much longer than I have and they know the game. They know much more than a lot of people know out there, so I think picking up on little things was key for me going into this camp.
They know when to relax and have fun and chat, but also when it’s time to turn it on and really focus in practice or in fitness testing, so just how to balance that I think I’m picking up more on. There’s times to have fun and then there’s times to be serious and get down to work.
They give you any tips or tricks on how to read a goalie?
[Laughter] I don’t know.
What’s the first thing that struck you about your new teammates?
The first thing that struck me was: we’re a team that wants to be serious on the ice. Work hard and win those games at the end of the day, but we also like to have fun. Going on the ice for an hour and a half practice, we still manage to have fun regardless of how hard it is on the ice, how hard we’re pushing.
To me that’s a key component to having fun: pushing ourselves to the limit. We have smiles on our faces while we’re doing it.
Thinking back to your time at Boston University, your role on the team evolved as your skills grew. How would you define your role in your last year on the Terriers?
Last year I stepped into more of a leadership role, just being there, being present in practice. What I personally bring is intensity, on and off the ice. Whatever workout we’re doing I like to do everything 100 percent, give it all I’ve got. I think that’s the kind of leadership I brought to the team; that kind of intensity.
[But] like the mentality we have here, I like to have fun in practice and keep it light. Even with new players I tried to reach out to them because it can be stressful coming into a big university and big program like BU. I picked up things through people like Caroline Ouellette or Pou, who’ve taught me throughout the years, so I tried to do that for them, too.
Have you gotten to talk with Lisa-Marie Breton-Lebreux [assistant coach of Montreal] yet about what role she hopes you’ll take on Montreal?
Not yet, [I’m] just trying to get through camp and then we’ll see. It’s one day at a time and the role will develop in the next month or so. Right now it’s just about getting to know everybody and working to earn my spot.
From the limited game tape of you I’ve seen, you appear to be equally competent at shooting and setting up plays. Which do you prefer?
I definitely prefer to shoot. I think a lot of people know that. I also do enjoy setting up plays. I don’t know, I like to have [control of] the puck. I know we were playing around in shootouts yesterday [at Les Canadiennes selection camp] and some people came over and said, “You’ve got to teach me how to shoot.”
[Laughter] It just came naturally. When I was growing up I would just go down into the basement and just shoot pucks for hours. It’s something that I picked up over time. I’ve been gradually learning [how to shoot] throughout my career.
Do you have a banged-up dryer?
[Laughter] Ah, banged-up plywood walls, actually, that my parents put for me downstairs. They’re still there, today. I think that’s what it was, just enjoying the time I spent shooting outside in winter or inside, downstairs. People ask me, how did you develop this shooting ability and it was just my childhood, over the years, spending time by myself shooting downstairs and outside. I don’t know if there’s a big recipe. Just practice, I think.
Do you have a trick shot you’re particularly proud of?
No, not really. I try to keep my feet moving, which makes when I’m going to shoot a little bit more unpredictable. They harp on us of that in all of our camps now; it’s a keep your feet moving, keep your balance, shoot while on stride mentality now. It’s a little bit more unpredictable. It can be hard but that’s what I tend to try to go to. Shooting off the pads or off the stick handle is another one that I like.
Are you excited to play with Poulin again?
Absolutely. We work out every day together and I definitely missed her. She pushes me and I try and push her to be better. It’s just fun to see familiar faces, and I know a little bit how she plays on the ice.
Oh, just a little bit.
Just a little. It’s just that little extra that’s going to make that play a little quicker, knowing what type of player she is, where she’s going to be. And hopefully I’ll get to know many more players on my team to feel as comfortable as I do with her as well. It’s only been two weeks but it’s been a blast this season.
Do you have a job that you’ll be doing during the week (when you’re not practicing or working out)?
Well, I’m not practicing or working out now. I’ve just kind of been working on the farm at home, milking cows with the machines, feeding them multiple times a day, making sure everything’s clean. I’m from the country, outside the city and I’ve kind of been working as many hours as I can at a dairy farm.
Farming is kind of where I grew up, it’s something that’s had a big presence in my life so far. We’ll see if that holds up in season. It might be a little harder with practices and obviously our skill sessions with Hockey Canada. Right now it’s one day at a time, one week at a time.
Speaking of, what are your plans as you prepare to make the 2018 Olympics roster?
First comes September camp, that starts this Sunday [ Sept. 11]. I’m going to take it day by day, that’s our plan for now due to my injury. Hopefully everything goes well and I get through testing. September followed by maybe the Four Nations roster, then we have camp in January that all non-college players attend, then maybe Worlds. One day at a time, one week at a time.
Correction: This article originally referred to Breton-Lebreux as head coach of Les Canadiennes and listed Montreal as semi-finalists for the Clarkson Cup. Breton-Lebreux is the assistant coach and Montreal was a finalist last season. Both mistakes have been fixed.