April 12th, 2024

Fast, Larocque enjoying consistency as lead blue liners for PWHL Toronto

By Abdulhamid Ibrahim, The Canadian Press on March 5, 2024.

Canada forward Blayre Turnbull (40) and defender Renata Fast (14) congratulate defender Jocelyne Larocque (3) on her goal against Czechia during second period IIHF Women’s World Hockey Championship hockey action in Brampton, Ont., on Friday, April 7, 2023. Fast and Larocque are no strangers to being paired up on the blue line. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn

TORONTO – Renata Fast and Jocelyne Larocque are no strangers to being partners on the blue line.

The two have been paired together on the Canadian national team. And as the Professional Women’s Hockey League season has progressed, they have benefited from a lot of ice time together for a red-hot Toronto team that’s won seven in a row and eight of its last nine.

“Just that consistency, the fact that we’re playing two to four games a week,” Larocque said post-practice Tuesday. “We read off each other well “¦ for me it’s been great, when you get to play with the fastest skater on the ice, it makes my job pretty easy.”

Fast says the defenders are getting more comfortable with the flow of the bench.

“At the beginning of the year, we were working a little bit where like Joc and I would split up for a shift and go with someone else and then we’d come back together.,” Fast said/

“I think we found it a little bit difficult at first to manage playing with other people but we’ve figured out a way. “¦ When we’re together we know how we need to play together “¦ (and) when you’re playing with another player, just playing the same way but having a little bit more awareness.”

The duo has been producing offensively just as well as they have defensively of late and are among the top-scoring blue liners in the PWHL. Fast has six of her seven points (one goal, six assists) on the season in the past six games, while Larocque has had six of her eight (one goal, seven assists) across the team’s hot stretch.

Part of the success comes from the creative system head coach Troy Ryan has employed, which includes defenders leading the rush if they make a play.

“Troy’s been my coach on the national team for a number of years now and I’ve told this to him, he’s changed the way that I see the game,” Larocque said. “In the past, I would always think the least amount of mistakes I’d make, the better I play.

“But he really stresses that you have to take calculated risks and you have to play to win and not play to lose. “¦ So it’s definitely helped me become a more complete player and I find that I do contribute more offensively since he’s been my coach.”

Fast said the team refers to Larocque as “Offensive Joc” or “OJ.”

“She’s been given the confidence and the green light to do it,” Fast said. “I think us being D partners, we are similar so there’s times she could jump.

“Before, I think her D partner was always the one jumping so she always had to cover. And now I think we both could do it and be aware of each other’s strengths and weaknesses. She’s always had it in her.”

Ryan says they’re two players he has a lot of trust in.

“They’re the least of my worries at all times,” he said. “Decisions they’ll make off the ice, the fitness they’ll do, the leadership they’ll show, I never have to worry or wonder if they’re doing the right thing, ever. Ever.

“I’ve coached a long time, and I don’t know if two people, definitely two D, have ever given me that feeling. But if you spend any time with them, you’ll see it right away. You just know they have the best of intentions, they’re never going to throw anybody under the bus, they’re always caring about their teammates, they take care of themselves.”

Back at the PWHL draft in September, Toronto had the second pick after signing Sarah Nurse, Blayre Turnbull and Fast in free agency. While the strategy for most was to draft young, Toronto took the 35-year-old Larocque over Swiss star Alina Muller.

“Would have been the obvious selection in that spot, we think Muller is a great player. We would have loved to have her as well,” Ryan said. “But we had a plan. When we were able to sign Renata as a free agent, we know how good Renata is, but we know how good she is with Larocque.

“It’s more having that pair and how dangerous that pair could be in a league like this.”

So far, the choice has more than paid off.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 5, 2024.

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