Stingers Sisters: Léonie and Alice Philbert Hit the Ice

From The Streets to U Sports: A Childhood Dream for the Philbert Sisters

Veteran Alice Philbert welcomed her rookie sister Léonie onto the Stingers women’s hockey team this season. Photo Caroline Marsh

Growing up in the suburbs, the Philbert sisters benefited from the wide streets of Saint-Bruno-de-Montarville for their ball hockey games.

Over the years, veteran Stingers goaltender Alice grew fond of her role as the designated netminder between the two.

Stingers rookie Léonie gladly took on the role of the goalscorer against her big sister.

Rivals on the streets, the sisters were able to ply their trade early as facing off against each other meant facing some quality opposition.

Fortunately for them, their sibling rivalry was limited to the streets.

The sisters were lucky enough to play on the same team twice in their careers. Léonie’s arrival with the Concordia Stingers marks the third time the sisters will get to play alongside each other, much to the pleasure of the goalie.

“She’s a forward and I really wouldn’t want my little sister to score on me,” said Alice.

“I’m really glad she’s on our team.”

After serving as captain for the Dawson College Blues women’s hockey team and being named their MVP last season, Léonie will join one of the most competitive teams in U Sports.

Her former coach with the Blues, Jean-François Leblond, had nothing but praise for his former player.

“Top nine, top six, top three. She’ll fit anywhere,” he said.

“I’ve coached at various levels of hockey, including the elite junior teams, and I can honestly say she is hands down the best player I have ever coached. In-game strategies and their intricacies were easy to understand for her.”

“She’s a forward and I really wouldn’t want my little sister to score on me.” Photo Caroline Marsh

Léonie’s on-ice intelligence is unsurprising considering her academic record. Last year, she received a Réseau du sport étudiant du Quebec Academic Merit Award for her accomplishments in class. Scholastics were at the forefront of Léonie’s decision to attend Concordia.

The youngest Philbert’s hockey IQ was a big selling point for Stingers’ head coach Julie Chu during the recruiting process. The rookie opted for an applied mathematics degree following the completion of her studies in pure and applied science at Dawson. But as Alice recalls, her little sister’s decision was already made up even before her first visit to the school.

Hockey has always been an important tradition for the Philbert family. Their older sister, both their parents and their grandfather all played hockey as well.

Supporting each other and working relentlessly are values that were instilled from early on in the Philbert household. Their will to support each other was seriously put to the test for a while.

At age nine, Léonie was diagnosed with a tumour in her left eye. While conducting a blind test experiment in class, Léonie noticed her vision disappearing completely when covering her right eye.

Following a brief medical examination, it was determined that an operation was needed to remove part of the tumour. Removing the rest of the tumour eventually required radiotherapy and chemotherapy.

“The important thing is to remain united together. It helps lessen the harder times. […] You have to be grateful for what you have and not what you lost. This is how you make it through challenges like that.”— Léonie Philbert

“We didn’t understand it as well when we were young,” said Alice. “Our parents told us that we had to take on this challenge as a team. We each had our role and we had to make sure that we kept the good vibrations within our circle to make it easier for [Léonie].”

Staying true to herself, Léonie didn’t let the fight bring her down and she made sure to keep an active lifestyle during the treatments. She recalls playing soccer with her mom while sitting down in a chair in her hospital room 10 days after her operation.

“I remember having treatments early in the morning only to end up playing tennis in the afternoon with my brother and sisters,” she said. “And that was pretty much every single day.”

A challenge of this magnitude can often be too jarring for some and could leave a deep scar on a family. But as they always do, the Philberts stood by each other during this long and painful process only to come out of it stronger and more unified than ever.

“The important thing is to remain united together,” said Léonie. “It helps lessen the harder times. We were very committed to keeping up the spirits and positive energy. You have to let go of negativity and focus on what you have. You have to be grateful for what you have and not what you lost. This is how you make it through challenges like that.”

Fully recovered from her treatments long ago, Léonie is focused on this new adventure with the Stingers.

Integrating into the team was natural for the rookie as she got to reconnect with familiar faces. Aside from her big sister, Stinger veterans Megan Woodworth and Audrey Belzile were both Léonie’s teammates at the CEGEP and midget levels respectively.

Léonie and Alice have spent all of the development in hockey together and are now both part of the best women’s hockey team in U Sports. Photo Caroline Marsh

“I kind of had an idea of how they worked already,” said Léonie. “I knew most of the girls already from playing against and with them in the summer. I was pretty much in the family already when I got there.”

The sisters will get the chance to deepen their bond over the next season while sharing their apartment not too far from the Loyola campus. The gruelling student-athlete schedule forced the move from the suburbs. But, they return to the South Shore every weekend the team plays at home.

“We’re a tight-knit family,” said Alice.

“Our family has been through a lot and our bond is important to us. I couldn’t see myself doing like [Dutch Stingers player] Bieke [van Nes] and moving halfway across the world.”

“And it’s pretty useful when you’re sick or you need food,” said Léonie. “Staying close to home played an important part in our decision to come to Concordia.”

The Philberts will look to share that special bond with the rest of the team as the season goes on. Chu believes that their mutual support will be beneficial to the whole squad.

“It’s really a fun and awesome dynamic,” said Chu. “Beyond their connection, the team as a whole is raising them and they are raising the team as part of the group.”

Chu played an important role in recruiting Léonie. Having her big sister on the roster already served as a big plus for bringing her in.

The determination and relentlessness the family built through Léonie’s treatments became a signature for the Philberts. Chu and assistant head coach Mike McGrath noticed the same strength of character in Léonie.

“The two of them never take a moment off,” said Chu. “They put their heads down, they work, they want to learn. That’s why they’re great at the university and why they’ll keep having an impact on our team. They fit perfectly in our culture here and I’m sure they’ll achieve some level of success together.”

The Philberts are looking to make an impact over their time with the Stingers. They want to make the most out of the next three seasons. The sisters aren’t shy about their desire to win over the next few years.

“I saw Alice win the RSEQ championship and go to Nationals,” said Léonie. “I lived it from the stands, but I’d like to get the chance to experience it for myself. We want to win it as a family.”