VANCOUVER — Emilie Castonguay never let being a woman get in the way as she blazed a trail through the hockey world — and she doesn't expect gender to be an issue as she continues her journey.
On Monday she became the first female assistant general manager in Vancouver Canucks history.
“I never really thought about gender when I was going through my journey. I had a very non-binary approach to it in the sense that I wanted to do something in hockey and I wanted it to mean something to me. I never thought, 'Hey, there’s only men in this industry, I can’t do this,'" said Castonguay, who in 2016 becamethe first female NHLPA-certified agent in Canada.
"I just kind of got all the knowledge that I thought I could get to get where I am today and I just put my head down and did the work. I think if you let gender get in your way or let it intimidate you, that’s when it will do that. And I never really let that happen to me in my journey.”
While Castonguay hasn't let gender impact her career, she knows her new role will mean a lot to others.
"Obviously it is a big day," she said. "I think it's a historic day. It goes to show that women have a place in sports and in hockey.”
Castonguay has a deep knowledge and love of hockey.
The Montreal native played four years at Niagara University, where she earned a bachelor's degree in finance. She went on to earn a law degree from the University of Montreal and become a member of the Quebec Bar Association.
She comes to the Canucks from the Momentum Hockey agency where she represented a number of high-level players, including Alexis Lafreniere, the first overall pick in the 2020 NHL entry draft, and Team Canada's Marie-Philip Poulin.
Castonguay's hiring is the latest move in a series of sweeping changes for the Canucks.
Vancouver fired head coach Travis Green, general manager Jim Benning and several other front-office staff on Dec. 5 after a dismal start to the season. Bruce Boudreau was hired as head coach and Jim Rutherford took over as president of hockey operations and interim GM.
"Emilie has extensive experience, is driven to succeed, and has a strong reputation in hockey for her intelligence and work ethic," Rutherford said in a statement.
With the Canucks, Castonguay will play a lead role in player contracts and negotiations, and manage the collective bargaining agreement, he added.
"She will be a key member of our leadership team and we are pleased to welcome her to Vancouver," Rutherford said.
A move to Vancouver has been on Castonguay's vision board for many years. She has also worked with the Canucks as an agent, including negotiations over a four-year, US$12-million contract for then-free agent Antoine Roussel in 2018.
So when Rutherford approached Castonguay about a job, she was intrigued.
“For me, Vancouver was a no-brainer," she said. "I feel they have a great young team that is hungry to win. And I’m just really happy to be part of their journey now."
When Rutherford called, he said he believed she could fill the role and be great at it, Castonguay added.
“I just felt that what he wants is quality people with quality vision and that can have a quality impact," she said. "And he thought I was one of those people.”
Deciding to move from representing players to working with an NHL club wasn't easy, though. Castonguay said the conversations she had with her clients before taking the Canucks job were "emotional."
"I can never thank them enough, the entire group, just for believing in me and allowing me to be that person for them," she said. "But they were so happy for me and they were so supportive. They know the type of impact I want to have on the game, they know the changes I want to bring."
As she joins the Canucks, Castonguay wants to make a human impact on the team's players.
“Hockey players are humans. The product that’s on the ice are human beings. And that’s important," she said. "It’s super important not to forget that you need to put the players first and you need to listen to them and make sure they have everything they need to succeed.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 24, 2022.
Gemma Karstens-Smith, The Canadian Press