Sarah Vaillancourt ’08-’09 learned how to skate at the age of two. At 12, Vaillancourt already knew she wanted to play ice hockey for her home country of Canada in the Olympics some day.
Twelve years later, she achieved her dream, taking home a gold medal in the 2006 Winter Games in Torino, Italy, and is now poised for a second victory in Vancouver.
Hockey was a natural choice for Vaillancourt. Her father and brother both play, and her early commitment to the sport paid off. By age 18, after a decorated varsity career at Pomfret Prep School, she was already wearing her own Team Canada jersey to compete in the 2003 Nations Cup.
During her first season at Harvard, she helped her team reach the Frozen Four championship, where she was picked for the All-Tournament Team, and was named Rookie of the Year in both the Ivy League and the Eastern Collegiate Athletics Conference.
After taking a year off to compete in the 2006 Winter Olympic Games, Vaillancourt returned to Harvard in 2006 and was named to the New England Division-I All-Star team by the ECAC, and to the second women’s Division-I All-American team by the American Hockey Coaches Association.
Despite her many awards and great success, those who know her say that Vaillancourt has remained grounded.
“She was always a very good teammate and a happy-go-lucky kid,” said Joakim B. Flygh, assistant women’s hockey coach at Harvard, who worked with Vaillancourt during her junior and senior years. “It is always a tremendous thing when you have kids like Sarah. She was extremely talented, but also incredibly hard-working-a pleasure to coach.”
In the 2007-2008 season, Vaillancourt helped lead the Crimson to the NCAA Frozen Four semifinals, was named New England Women’s Hockey Player of the Year, and won the Patty Kazmaier Memorial Award for the most outstanding player in women’s hockey.
Her senior year, Vaillancourt led her team to finish fourth overall in the NCAA. She was named the Ivy League and ECAC Women’s Hockey Player of the Year, and the New England Women’s Hockey Player of the Year for the second time.
At Harvard, Vaillancourt was honored with the Radcliffe Prize for the top female athlete at the Harvard Varsity Club’s Senior Letterwinners Dinner.
Though her coaches and teammates at Harvard say they miss her greatly, they are grateful for the impact she had during her collegiate career and happy to watch her continuing success.
“Sarah was a huge part of building the women’s ice hockey program at Harvard,” said women’s hockey head coach Katey Stone. “It is great to see her performing so well.”
Team Canada has been dominating the competition thus far in the Vancouver games, and a face off with the U.S. team is likely in the finals.
In that case, Vaillancourt and teammate Jennifer Botterill ’02-’03 will have to play against former Harvard teammates representing the U.S., leaving their former coaches rooting for both sides.
“I want it to be an exciting game and I’m sure it will be. It is awesome to see those two teams play-the skill level is absolutely tremendous,” Flygh said. “The Canadian and U.S. Olympic teams are an unbelievable showcase of how far women’s hockey has come.”
Vaillancourt and team Canada compete today in the women’s ice hockey Olympic semi-finals, facing off against Finland and shooting for their fourth victory in the 2010 Vancouver games.