Marie-Pierre Néron bids emotional farewell to 67’s
Most times, junior hockey’s hardest goodbyes are said at the trade deadline, or at season’s end. Other times, you can be blindsided by bittersweet departures, as the OHL’s ultimate goal is accomplished yet another time.
This league isn’t just about developing players. It’s about people like MP Néron, who served as the 67’s athletic therapist for the past two seasons, and has accepted a role with the Laval Rocket in the AHL.
Although short, Néron’s time with the Barber Poles will be something etched into memories. She worked tirelessly to ensure each player’s health on the ice, whether it was a simple nosebleed, or something far more serious, nothing was ever too big or too small.
Make no mistake, Néron is great at her job, but it’s off the ice where she separates herself, earning the trust and love of those around her. She loved the team, and frankly, she still does, and in turn, the new gig wasn’t as celebratory as you may expect.
“I was heartbroken,” Néron said of her immediate feelings after getting the offer. “I was hoping to get a few more years in Ottawa, but I knew that I had to move up. It’s a great opportunity, I had to take it. At the same time, I wasn’t ready to leave, and I cried for a few days.”
Since joining the organization, Néron has experienced a lot. Some of it has been great, other times, it has been new, or even scary. All of it has helped to make her better at her job, but the one thing that sticks out to her as the best moment was being away from work, hanging out with the team, and sharing their love of hockey.
“There’s so many great memories,” Néron said. “Last year, we got stuck in Toronto because of a snowstorm. We got tickets to see the Toronto Marlies, and we had a nice team dinner. It was a nice few days with the boys.”
Coming to Ottawa with little experience, Néron spent the past two seasons learning everything she could.
“I learned to take care of myself as much as I take care of the kids,” Néron said. “Coach Cameron would always tell us to go outside and get some sun in the winter, because it’s important to take care of ourselves, even though we have a long season.”
Even on days when she isn’t feeling like herself, Néron has felt the unwavering support from the organization. What’s more, the team facilities are filled with people who want to see her do well, and placed belief in her to accomplish her dreams.
“It means so much,” she said. “Ottawa let me pursue my path with Hockey Canada, and I’m really grateful that they gave me a chance in the first place. They trusted me, and put confidence in my work, and that gives me the confidence to go pro and keep going.”
Her efforts were always unselfish, says defenceman Bradley Horner, who began his 67’s tenure injured, and ended last season in the same situation.
“I was in MP’s office for half a year,” Horner said. “She was the best at helping me. Whether it was just giving me some ice, a full-blown massage, or just hanging out while I was going through treatment, it was an everyday thing for us. You could always go to her when you needed something. She’ll be very hard to replace.”
Now, when she looks back at where she came from, Néron can do nothing but smile, as she pushes toward her ultimate dream of the NHL.
“I’m really proud of what I have achieved,” Néron said. “It’s rare that someone with as little experience as I have gets the opportunity. I’m a girl from Chicoutimi, and I’m proud to go back home, and work in the Montreal Canadiens organization. They are why I started doing this in the first place.”
It’s a sense of pride is shared by the entire organization.
“You’re excited that one of the employees who was in the trenches every day, and was really exceptional at her work [is moving up],” Cameron said. “It’s no shock, and I told her it was only a matter of time. We’re really proud of her.”
In Ottawa, she leaves behind not just colleagues, but life-long friends. People who made her decision so difficult, but who will be cheering her on.
“The people are so great,” Néron said, with tears welling up in her eyes. “The players, of course. Chris Hamilton and Kenny Walls. We go on all of the road trips together, and it’s tough, but when you have great people around you, it makes it special. Coach Dave is a big one, he’s a caring human being, and I learned so much from him. James Boyd, the social media people, communications… I’ll miss the people.”
It’s a sentiment reciprocated by the people that Neron went out of her way to mention; particularly by the players.
“I’m glad I got to meet her, and I won’t forget her for the rest of my career, or the rest of my life,” Horner said. “It’s the big smile whenever you come in, she always kept it light.”