"I had been away for 16 days, and I was turning into a Momma Bear!" Cassie Campbell-Pascall says with a sheepish laugh. "That was long enough for me!"
Speaking from her home office in Calgary, Ms. Campbell-Pascall had just returned from covering the Eastern Conference quarterfinal series between the New York Rangers and the Ottawa Senators for Hockey Night in Canada. Anxious to get home to her first child, 17-month-old daughter Brooke, and her husband, Brad, she had asked to do the interview on Skype rather than in person in Toronto, where she briefly landed en route home.
The former captain of the Canadian women's ice hockey team, who led them to back-to-back Olympic golds in 2002 and 2006, still lives and breathes hockey – she watches an average of 15 games every week, during the National Hockey League season, to stay informed for her job as a commentator for Hockey Night in Canada – but motherhood has recalibrated her in ways she could never have imagined.
"I think I am a little less competitive," she begins in an easy, conversational tone, dressed casually at her desk and wearing glasses. "I love my job. ... But my life now is so much about my family, whereas before it was so much about me. As an athlete, it was so much about me. As a new wife, it was so much about me." She produces another little laugh over this revelation. "And now with Brooke, it's so less about me, and I'm such a happier person as a result."
Since Ms. Campbell-Pascall became the face of Canadian women's ice hockey when the sport was included for the first time in the Olympics in 1998 in Nagano, Japan, she has helped to redefine what hockey can be ("There's more finesse in women's hockey," she says) and exemplified an unexpected oxymoron – sweet toughness. This was the wholesome girl next door with a mean slapshot.
But after retiring from competitive hockey in 2006 – and becoming the first woman to provide colour commentary on Hockey Night in Canada that same year – her relationship with the sport has changed. "I have no desire to put my skates on," the 38-year-old says. "I think hockey is still so much part of my life, when I get an hour of free time, I don't want that to be about hockey as well."
To stay fit, she works out with a trainer three or four times a week, goes for a run or takes her daughter to the park. "If I was training much more than I am now, I'd still be playing [competitive hockey]" she explains. "I train enough to keep fit, and I gained 50 pounds having a baby so I'm trying to get rid of that still."
She also tries to limit how much she talks about the sport with her husband, who is a vice-president with Hockey Canada. "It is kind of funny," she acknowledges. "We're watching it all the time, but we kind of don't like to talk about it together."
They met in 1995 when she was playing with Team Canada. "We all thought he was the new team doctor. So I made a point of going up to say hello," she says, rolling her eyes in a mocking gesture about her younger self.
When she moved to Calgary in the summer of 2001 to train with world-renowned sports trainer James Gattinger, Brad Pascall was living in the same city. They married in 2005.
Hockey is so much part of their TV-watching habits, their toddler can identify the sport when she sees it. "She points to the screen and says, 'Hockey, hockey!' " her mom says. "Which scares me a lot."
Does she worry about becoming an aggressive hockey parent? "I don't want to rush her into it. I want to make sure she's asking me. My nieces play hockey, and I'm competitive with them, so God knows what I'd be like with my own daughter."
She and her husband recently bought their daughter her first pair of skates. "They're real boys' hockey skates. Not figure skates," points out Ms. Campbell-Pascall, who is involved with safe-hockey programs in association with both Scotiabank and Chevrolet.
Even a concern with head injuries wouldn't prevent her from encouraging her daughter to play hockey, if she wanted to. "When you play any sport, you're susceptible to getting a concussion. That's the reality of it. It's always centred around hockey because here in Canada that's what we talk about. If basketball or football was our No. 1 sport, that's what we would be talking about."
As a young girl, she was attracted to hockey for many reasons. She loved the speed, the sense of community, the camaraderie with her teammates – oh, and the smell of the rink. She was a tomboy, like her mother, Eunice, who played professional football in 1969 for one season before becoming pregnant. Her parents divorced when she was young, and she learned a lot about perseverance from her mother. "She is my biggest hero. She worked hard and she was a great example for both me and my [older]brother. She didn't see any limitations to what girls could do."
Ms. Campbell-Pascall brings that determination to her on-air job. "When I first started with Hockey Night in Canada, it wasn't about being a man or a woman. It's Hockey Night in Canada! You can't screw up! I think when I first started, I researched way too much. I knew way more than I needed to. I thought too much, rather than just relying on my instincts as a hockey person.
"From day one, when I took this job, people treated me like a hockey person," she adds. "I'm kind of like the little sister they never had. ... The only thing I have to go on is just to be yourself."
Fans are the ones who can be sexist. "I get comments like 'You're just a dumb girl.' ... At first, you read it all the time. That's your feedback. But now I take it with a grain of salt."
The popular culture of hockey is one of testosterone and brawn, which tends to dismiss the value and entertainment aspect of women's ice hockey, Ms. Campbell-Pascall acknowledges. "You get frustrated because you know the commitment and the work ethic that's being put in behind the scenes ... but you keep being positive.
"We're going to get there one day. We're going to have a professional women's hockey league in my opinion, and the NHL is going to support us. It will take time, but we're on the right track."
With the summer ahead of her – and no more Hockey Night in Canada assignments until the fall – she is looking forward to a slower work schedule. "This is my time to be at home and be a normal human being."
That doesn't mean she has completely forgotten about hockey – not yet, anyway. Her predictions for the Stanley Cup winner? The Los Angeles Kings.