No mountain too steep for Jessymaude Drapeau

Stingers forward rides past challenges to Nationals MVP

Jessymaude Drapeau celebrates her goal during the 2024 U Sports National Championships. Courtesy Concordia Athletics

As the clock struck triple zeros in the ultimate Nationals clash at Merlis Belsher Place in Saskatoon, Sask., the Stingers poured off the bench and swarmed goaltender Jordyn Verbeek, marking their second U Sports title in three seasons.

Forward Jessymaude Drapeau, seconds removed from being named to the tournament all-star team, turned to teammate Léonie Philbert in shock at being announced as the tournament’s most valuable player. 

Victorious gold around her neck and euphoric tears in her eyes, Drapeau greeted her parents on the ice. She turned to her mother, Karine Lizotte, and merely uttered: “Now it’s all good.”

Drapeau is one of many current Stingers who also experienced the gut-wrenching loss in the 2023 U Sports gold medal game in their home city. It remained fresh in Drapeau’s mind throughout this entire season, so much so that she prohibited her family from mentioning Nationals at all.

“After Christmas [this year], we were telling her that things were going well and that they could maybe go all the way,” Lizotte recalled, “and she said, ‘Don’t talk to me about that.’”

For Drapeau, the goal of this season became clear: work even harder.

“Every time I went to train, I reminded myself of the 1.8 seconds [on the clock],” she said.

She is no stranger to using previous failures as motivation. Prior to the 2023 gold medal game, her biggest obstacle came in midget hockey, where she hoped to represent her home province in the National Women’s Under-18 Championships. She was invited to training camp, but was cut from Team Quebec three years in a row.

Each of the first two times she was cut, she was able to look forward to the next season, where she would be more experienced and have a better shot of making the provincial team. Despair set in after falling short in her third and final year of eligibility, knowing that was her last opportunity.

“I watched all my friends make the team, but I never did,” she said. “The last cut during my three years was definitely very hard.”

Adding insult to injury, Drummondville, Que.—the training camp site—felt like forever away from Drapeau’s hometown of Rivière-du-Loup, Que. Having to bear such a heavy burden alone, far from family would be too much for any athlete, let alone a 17-year-old. 

For Lizotte, there was no doubt that it was the toughest moment for Drapeau up to that point in her career. “As a parent, what can you say other than ‘This is the life?’” she wondered.

But Drapeau, ever-determined, knew that she could use this tough experience to her advantage.

“I was always fueled by it. I love failures,” she said, chuckling. “Getting cut was always hard, but I think that if I didn’t go through that in that moment, I wouldn’t be where I am right now, so I’m a bit thankful for getting cut because my career is going really great right now.”

That career entered its current chapter four years ago, when Drapeau arrived at Concordia. The pedigree of the Stingers coaching staff combined with her desire to study in English made the commitment a no-brainer.

Her would-be rookie season was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. She saw success immediately as a rookie in 2021-22, being placed on the top line with star forwards Emmy Fecteau and Rosalie Bégin-Cyr.

“I looked at them as idols,” Drapeau said. “They had already accomplished so much, so I was shocked at being able to play with them. They’re incredible.”

Drapeau was nothing short of incredible herself, putting up 12 points in the COVID-shortened 15-game regular season. She added seven points in four provincial playoff games and helped the Stingers to their first U Sports title in 23 years.

Her third season was marked with extra responsibilities with the ‘A’ being added to her jersey, making her an alternate captain. Drapeau, who is usually shy and reserved, had risen to the occasion and had previously proven that she could handle a leadership role, to the delight of her coaches.

“Last year, just before playoffs, we had a team meeting,” recalled head coach Julie Chu, “and she stood up and said some words, and I think everyone in the room was like, ‘Oh my goodness, that was great!’ That was a really proud moment for me,” she said with a smile.

Chu has seen Drapeau transform from an isolated player too shy to speak in front of a group to a confident leader who looks people in the eye and has no problem maintaining a conversation.

Drapeau’s motivational tactics have rubbed off on her teammates, even those who already have letters on their jerseys.

“She encouraged me to develop good habits, good routines,” said captain Emmy Fecteau. “She pushes me to improve. She often sends me quotes to motivate me, which I really love.”

Drapeau’s transformation has been apparent on the ice, too. Not only is she comfortable in high-pressure moments, they bring out the best in her.

In the 2024 U Sports semifinals against the Waterloo Warriors, the Stingers were barely clinging to a 2-1 lead late in the third period. The Warriors were mounting the pressure, and got themselves a power play with under three minutes to play.

“I said to myself that this was the same scenario as last year,” Lizotte remarked. “But I knew somebody would wake up.”

With under 90 seconds to play, Drapeau, who had taken on penalty killing duties this season, poked the puck past a defender along the boards, and streaked in all alone on Warriors goaltender Mikayla Schnarr. A couple of stick handles later, Drapeau found twine, and wrapped a bow on a 3-1 victory for the Stingers.

With Fecteau and Bégin-Cyr leaving the team, there is no better way for Drapeau to show her teammates and coaches that they will still have a reliable veteran leader next season. 

Lizotte has no doubt that she will be prepared for anything that comes next. “She has strength of character and determination. It makes her who she is today,” she said, wiping a prideful tear off her cheek.

Drapeau aspires to play professionally, but she will likely play out her final two years of U Sports eligibility before chasing a Professional Women’s Hockey League career.

This article originally appeared in Volume 44, Issue 13, published April 2, 2024.