Growing up in Amos, Quebec as a teenager Juana Baribeau wasn’t even aware that playing hockey while attending college in the United States was an option. She also revealed she wasn’t really a fan of the NHL’s lone team in Quebec, but rather two Olympic stars that represented Team Canada. “I’m not that big into watching hockey, I’d rather play. Always I’d be watching the Olympics with my siblings, my sister mainly,” said Baribeau. “Caroline Ouellette (four gold medals) – I was a big fan of hers and also Gina Kingsbury (two gold medals), who is from the area where I’m from. I’ve kind of always looked up to her and the route that she took.”
Now in her third season as a pro, Baribeau is one of 11 Canadian players in the NWHL (114 total players). “I hadn’t really learned that there were college teams in the US and I was kind of surprised when I was approached,” the 29-year-old forward explained to The Hockey Writers. “But it was the best decision I made and it opened for me a lot of doors; a lot of great things came from that decision.” That decision led to a four-year career at Clarkson University (2008-12) where Baribeau played in 150 games and at the start of this season she was ranked ninth all-time in school history in total points (118), fifth in goals (62), and 12th in assists (56).
THW spoke with Baribeau following the Whale’s season-opening game against the Buffalo Beauts to find out why she returned for a third NWHL season, being a leader on a team filled with so many young stars, the outlook for Connecticut this season, and other topics as well.
Baribeau’s Busy Summer
The Hockey Writers: I know you had a very busy and exciting summer, what can you tell us about it?
Juana Baribeau: My summer was really, really busy (smiles). I don’t think I had any weekends off. It was a lot of fun. I had my wedding going on (on June 23 Baribeau had a ceremony with family and friends after marrying her girlfriend back in August 2015) and a lot of training too. I also had a nice little Spartan Race to challenge myself a little bit. But I’m ready to go for this season.
— Juana Baribeau (@JuiceCT25) August 15, 2018
THW: When did you decide you wanted to come back for this season? Was it something that was always in your mind?
JB: I won’t lie, I took a little while to really think about it. We still had a lot of things to plan for our wedding and I really wanted to focus on that before thinking about coming back for the next season. (Head Coach) Ryan (Equale) reached out to me as we were preparing for the wedding (chuckles), and I told him ‘let me get back to you next week when it’s over.’ We had a good talk and I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to come back.
A Fixture in Whale Lineup
THW: This is your third year in the league, all with Connecticut. Obviously, today was just the first game of the season, but what would you say is different about this edition of the Whale?
JB: Like last year, we have a lot of new girls, but the desire to battle, the desire to compete – looks a lot higher than I’ve seen in the past. I think that’s a big plus to change from where things had been. I’m really confident that this year we can do a lot of good things with this team.
THW: Last year you finally recorded your first NWHL point and also scored your first NWHL goal. What do you remember about that and what are your personal goals for this season?
JB: I remember last year when I hit a point that I wanted that first goal too much. I think just too much (self-imposed) pressure. You don’t really want to think about it but at the same time, it’s always in the back of your mind. That was a lot of relief once I got that first point, but then the focus shifts to ‘okay, I want to get that second one.’ I’m really going into this year giving it all I got and if the goal comes, it comes. That’s my plan for this season (laughs).
THW: You’re wearing an A on your jersey as one of the alternate captains for the second straight season; what does that honor mean to you?
JB: This year the captains were selected by the coach only but it means a lot when you get your coach and your teammates vote for you and see you as a leader. I can’t lie though, this team has a lot of leaders. Nobody needs a letter to be leading. We have a great group and I feel that much more proud to have it on my jersey, but anyone can be a leader on this team. I’m really looking forward to this season.
Connecticut’s New Look
THW: We know she’s one of the most passionate players in the league, but what can you tell us about the choice of Emily Fluke as the captain this season?
JB: She works hard and she’s been working out all summer. Last year she was our leading scorer, we can see a lot of great things for her this year.
THW: Obviously a tough loss today in the opener, but what’s the outlook for the Whale this season from your perspective?
JB: We have a great group of players, we’re all working hard and the new girls want to play. I know I said the same thing last year – we have a great group of new players. I saw a lot of great things and a lot of good battles today, we just need more of that to bring the game where we want it to be.
Dan Rice is in his 9th year of reporting for THW & has covered NJ Devils home games for 15+ years at various websites. He began his journey working for legendary broadcaster/writer Stan Fischler from 2002-04 & completed an internship at the ECHL; he also has been writing features for the NWHL (nwhl.zone) website since 2016.