Former ice hockey goaltender Joanie Duchesneau dominant on the gridiron

Possessing a tremendous athletic background, the Montreal Blitz have a gem in Joanne Duchesneau. Towering at 6’1”, her youth was spent excelling on both the soccer pitch and the hockey rink. It was during soccer that Duchesneau would cultivate her desire to play football. Observing football teams practice on a nearby field, the interest to emulate their activity was one that attained its fruition in grand fashion following her hockey career.

Reaching the AAA level in women’s ice hockey with Les Patriotes de St-Laurent, Duchesneau stood between the pipes as their starting goaltender. Among her career highlights, she would capture the gold medal at the 2012 Tournoi des Carabins de Montreal, where she was part of a goaltending group that posted a sparkling .960 save percentage.

Duchesneau between the pipes with Les Patriotes de St. Laurent (Credit: Michael Green)

Having also competed in the Ligue de Hockey Feminin Montreal-Metro, where she also played at the forward position for the Icewolves Club Team, Duchesneau remains an integral part of the game in Quebec. Remaining part of the game as a referee, Duchesneau experienced the thrill of serving as one of five officials from Hockey Quebec that would work at the Canadian U18 Women’s Nationals.

In the aftermath of hanging up her competitive skates, Duchesneau decided to balance officiating duties with participation in Cross Fit, while engaging in the pursuit of her gridiron dream. Having first suited up with the Montreal Blitz during the 2015 season, when she was only 21 years of age, her proficiency was quickly evident, emerging as a building block for the Blitz defensive attack.

Duchesneau featured in her Blitz jersey along with her officiating gear from Hockey Quebec

By her third season, Duchesneau was not only contributing towards a strong showing for the franchise, its first in the Women’s Football Alliance, Duchesneau earned a spot on Canada’s national women’s football team, part of a class of more than 30 wondrous women making their debut in the red and white jersey.

Sharing in this experience with nine members of the Blitz, it was an element that enriched the essence of teamwork. Having developed an unbreakable bond that comes with the visceral battles that take place on the gridiron, Duchesneau was part of a collective group of Blitz stars bringing their sense of unity to Canada’s team.

Considering that linebacker Virginie Roussel and defensive back Amelia Janson joined Duchesneau among the Blitz stars patrolling the defense for Canada, the familiarity and rapport had numerous benefits. Highlighted by the strong communication between this titanic trio, perhaps the most essential was the fact that all three were making their debuts for Canada, each finding luster in the fact that it was a combined honour,

“It was really special. We were a unified group. During the season, you go to war in each game for your teammates and you develop a sense of belonging to each one of them. I have been playing with several of them for several years now and being able to share an experience as exceptional as Team Canada with your friends is a privilege!

In addition, it facilitated adaptation and communication on the field. For example, to have another D-Line from the Blitz with me, it allowed me a chance to facilitate my adjustment on the field and it was fun to bring the complexity and the pleasure that we had on the field as members of the Blitz to the international level.”

Gracing the gridiron at the IFAF Women’s World Football Championships in Vancouver, British Columbia, it signified the next step in Duchesneau’s football odyssey. Taking into account that it was just her third season in the game, the chance to compete internationally exemplified how her career had grown by a quantum leap.

Reflecting on the milestone of wearing the Canadian jersey for the first time, such a surreal moment did not reach its true realization until the opening game of the IFAF Worlds. Discussing the feeling of representing one’s country, the moments leading up to opening kickoff represented a spiritual awakening, the culmination of three years of sweat and sacrifice, finding tremendous meaning in the privilege of wearing the jersey,

“I would say that it is a rather unique feeling, I do not think I had realized the full extent of the feeling of pride that it could bring. During the week of training camps before the championships, I do not think I realized it. For me, it was still just playing football, but on a better level.

On the other hand, in the locker room before the first game, it was then that everything became real and I realized that I was really playing for my country. I felt a mixture of pride and excitement, it was undoubtedly one of the most beautiful feelings I could experience!”

Considering that the road to competing at the international championship actually began in 2016, when Duchesneau was part of the Team Quebec squad that participated in the Canadian National Women’s Championships, the effort exerted is one that is most admirable. Displaying tremendous maturity, she does not take for granted that the preparation involved was just as essential as the on-field performance.

While there is a lifetime of memories accumulated in such a short time span during a memorable world championship in Vancouver, the chance to play for the gold medal was certainly a highlight. Considering that Duchesneau and Team Quebec qualified for the gold medal game versus Team Saskatchewan in 2016, she had already possessed significant big game experience.

Duchesneau (#95) in action with the Blitz (Credit: Kevin J. Raftery)

That experience would definitely spur Duchesneau towards the biggest game of her career. With Canada challenging the United States for the third consecutive time in the IFAF Gold Medal Game, the latest chapter in this eternal rivalry was one built on confidence. Employing a strong belief that the balance of power could be altered into Canada’s favor, grabbing an elusive gold medal, it was the type of momentum that Duchesneau subscribed to, helping to define a new generation of female footballers, empowered in the belief that they held a stake in the game,

“It is hard to pin point just one moment, because preparing for a championship like this is a long process. It takes a lot of effort and sacrifice. I think a favorite would be at a team meeting before the final against the US, when all the girls thought we could achieve that feat there. That set the table for the biggest game I played in my life.

Before the game, you could see excitement and determination in the locker room. Despite the defeat, I will remember this part for a long time as 45 girls gathered and gave everything until the end. So, it would be the match of the final, in addition to being able to play in front of our fans, it was incredible!”

As the 2018 season approaches rapidly, it is one that Duchesneau anticipates with a newfound bravura. Pondering the possibilities of another successful season of Blitz football, it is one where she views herself having emerged as a better player and more strategic competitor, elements that are poised to help her polish an already fundamentally sound game, while extending the legacy of legendary players that have donned the Blitz jersey.

“The world championship is two weeks where the only thing you do is think of football. Without a doubt this has allowed me to become a better player. The experience and IQ football that I have gained during these two weeks are some things that allows you to grow as a player and as people.

I believe that by playing with and against the best that you improve. It was one of the opportunities that Team Canada allowed me to achieve. I hope to bring the experiences obtained there with me in future years.”

“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”

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