Ann-Renee Desbiens relishing renewed sense of ‘fun’ in net for Team Canada

Amanda Kessel of USA and goalkeeper Ann-Renee Desbiens of Canada battle for the puck.
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Canadian goalie Ann-Renee Desbiens thought her competitive days were over when she walked away with silver from the 2018 Winter Olympics.

After starting Canada’s first game, where she recorded an 18-save shutout in a 5-0 win vs. Russia (then known as Olympic Athletes of Russia), Desbiens finished the tournament on the bench. She looked on as a back-up goalie when Canada lost to the U.S. in the gold medal game, and when she looked forward, Desbiens saw no viable path to play professionally.

“I was not happy anymore,’’ Desbiens told media Thursday after Canada’s practice session ahead of their quarterfinal matchup vs. Sweden on Friday.

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Desbiens retired, scored an internship at Deloitte and returned to her studies at the University of Wisconsin, where she earned her master’s in accounting. She also lent a hand as a goalie coach for the Wisconsin’s women’s team, which won a national championship in 2019 and featured now-Olympic teammate and fellow goalie Kristen Campbell.

It was through coaching the Badgers that she got the opportunity to coach in the Hockey Canada program and reopened herself to the idea of playing for the national team again.

“I thought I was in the right place mentally, and (it was) something I could try again; it was a lot of things,’’ said Desbiens, who was hesitant about the team’s previous “win-at-all-costs” mentality and addressed her reservations with management and former teammates before making her decision.

“You see the fruits of the culture change by all the smiles on the ice, and that is what was lacking in the past,” she said. “We were always kind of stressed and scared to make a mistake. Now we make a mistake, we brush it off and we go again.”

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Desbiens has started three games, allowing just four goals on 97 shots, including a 51-save performance against the U.S. in a 4-2 victory in their round-robin matchup.

“She’s so good seeing the puck right now and she’s playing the puck with so much confidence on her stick,” said Canadian forward Brianne Jenner after the win. “We feel pretty confident playing in front of her.”

Added Desbiens: “Fun is the most important thing in any part of life, whether it is at home, or with friends, or whether it is the sports world. It is easier to do your job and do it well, and at the end of the day it is a pleasure to come to the rink.”

In Friday’s first quarterfinal, the U.S. beat the Czech Republic 4-1. On Saturday, ROC takes on Switzerland, while Finland faces Japan.

NBC Olympics Research contributed to this report. 

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