Goalkeeper Charlotte Cagigos travels a rare path in pro hockey for men in France

Charlotte Cagigos is the backup goalkeeper for Drakkars of Caen, an otherwise completely male team in France’s ice hockey league in division 1. Her history is exceptional in French professional sports.

A woman who uses her craft surrounded by male colleagues is rare in French sports, but this is what it looks like for Charlotte Cagigos every day at work.

“When I came to Caen, I never thought I would ever get into the professional team. And then I never thought I would play a game with them,” the 20-year-old goalkeeper told FRANCE 24. “I do not know” t want to set boundaries for myself. “

Cagigos played his first minutes as a first-team player for the Normandy-based club in a friendly friendly against Neuilly-sur-Marne Bisons on January 6.

“The match went pretty well. There was a bit of pressure because it was my first match but that was not what weighed most. Many media were interested in my story and I thought ‘Wow! This is actually not very common, “when this game for me was the logical next step on the journey. I knew the opportunity would present itself at some point because I had been in the group since September,” says Cagigos. “I saw that I represented a woman who played with men. And I said to myself that if I had a bad game, it would reflect badly and people would say that women do not belong here.”

“It’s bizarre to suddenly be in the spotlight when I’m a pretty discreet person. But I tell myself it’s good for our sport, for the goalkeeper position and for women’s hockey,” Cagigos explains. “When I was little, I would have liked to have seen a girl play in a top team and have her as a role model. I do not necessarily want to be a symbol but I just want to show that it is possible for some girls to play hockey,” she adds.

Originally from the southern French city of Montpellier, Cagigos first hit the rink at the age of three and followed in big brother’s footsteps. Her parents registered her for skating lessons and expected her to retire from figure skating. But the Cagigos only had eyes for hockey. “It quickly became a passion. When I came home after training on the ice, I would put on my roller skates to continue playing hockey,” she says. “While my big brother finished hockey, my little brother picked it up. At home, we always played together.”

At 2 p.m., Cagigos signed up for a sports study program and left his hometown to join the French women’s hockey center in Chambéry, in the Alps. “That’s where I discovered high-level sports. I was with the best girls in France and we played against the boys,” recalls the goalkeeper, who continued her studies while she was in the program, and even passed her high school diploma one year. pre.

Goalie advantage

Cagigos is an exception in France, not only in hockey but among all team sports. She is the only woman who plays with men at the highest level.

Ice hockey is distinctive in that a woman can work her way into a men’s team in front of the net. “In hockey, the goalkeeper position is special. The skills required are more technical than physical. Mixed sports, why not, but it seems to me difficult to expand all sports,” said Cagigos.

In 2017, she felt she “needed a change” after a knee injury. “I was looking for a club that would give me ice time and allow me to learn, even as a girl. Not all teams have that openness,” said the goalkeeper. “During an interview in Caen, Virgile Mariette, who was in charge of the upcoming players, immediately said that it was not a question for him if I was a girl or a boy. As long as I worked, it would not make a difference. me right away. “

Another woman had already prepared the ground for Drakkars in Caen. Nolwenn Rousselle, who was trained by the club, was Drakar’s official back-up netminder in the mid-2000s. Rousselle was the first woman to score in the Magnus League, France’s top men’s hockey championship, one step above Division 1.

“It’s true that this club is distinctive in that way,” Drakkars coach Luc Chauvel told FRANCE 24. “Nolwenn and Charlotte were used to playing with boys up to the age of 17 and it was therefore natural for them to go against We also try to encourage the development of women’s hockey, but it is complicated to put together a team, he regrets.

Women’s hockey is significantly more developed in North America than in France. At the Olympics, only Canada and the United States have managed to claim gold in the sport since the women’s tournament began in 1998. Olympic goalkeepers also have a history of pioneering leagues in the top men.

Canada’s Manon Rhéaume made history in 1992 as the first woman ever to play in the National Hockey League when she backed Tampa Bay Lightning in a pre-season showdown. Rhéaume went on to win silver in Nagano in 1998. She and Canadian three-time gold medalist Charline Labonté both tended to score in the otherwise all-time Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. Goalkeeper Kim St-Pierre, who also won three Olympic gold medals for Canada, has completed training for the NHL’s Montreal Canadiens. The road to success is narrower in France.

‘One of the team’

In Normandy, the Cagigos have risen step by step in the Drakkars leadership. After two years with the elite team for 17 years, she spent a seasonal alternative between Caens in her 20s and the reserve team and played in Division 3. Then, in August 2020, when the first team’s back goalkeeper left the club, Cagigos officially claimed the job.

“Without being officially on the team, I already trained with them. From that time on, it came naturally to fit into the team. The boys were super welcoming,” she recalls.

“Charlotte completely deserves her place. She is a hard worker. She gives everything. She is always fully invested and always wants to make progress,” says Chauvel. “She has fitted in successfully. The boys think she is one of the team like everyone else.”

Cagigos have taken advantage of the absence of Caen’s main goalkeeper, veteran France international Ronan Quemener, who is preparing for the next step in his own career by taking courses in nearby Rouen.

While the French hockey team has shared their experience, Cagigos knows she has a long way to go before she can get the role of the first starting memory as Quemener. “As it looks, I think I’m still a long way from a goalkeeper job,” she says.

“She still has a lot to learn and experience to become the first starter,” confirms her coach. “But I know that if I need her during a match, she’s ready to go.”

The sensible young goalkeeper wants to stay in Caen for at least the next two years, while she completes her master’s degree in sports science “as insurance”. In addition, she “does not want to close any doors,” she says.

“I think I will find a Division 2 club where it would probably be easier for me to have ice time. Or I can try my luck abroad, in which case I will switch to women’s championships,” said Cagigos.

Olympic dreams

In addition to her emerging dreams of a club career, Cagigos especially hopes to get a place on the French national team. She has already had the opportunity to participate in several gatherings with Les Bleues. “Being permanently in the group to be able to compete in the Olympic qualifiers for 2022 would be a dream,” smiles Cagigos. “With Covid-19, the competitions were interrupted, just like the World Cup, but the group has one goal in mind: Competition in the Olympics,” she says.

In Caen, Cagigo’s coach is on board. “She dreams of the Olympics. We try to do everything we can to get her into the national team. The club’s goal is to lead her to the elite level, which would be huge for her and for us,” said Chauvel. .

Cagigos feels fulfilled by her career so far, but she lacks one thing: The atmosphere in the locker room, so important in a team sport. “I’m completely alone in mine. That’s the only sacrifice I make,” she says.

This article has been translated and adapted from the original in French.

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