Poulin was born in Québec City and raised in the small city of Beauceville, about an hour’s drive south of the provincial capital. She started figure skating at the age of four but traded toe picks for hockey skates a year later; she had an older brother who played the game and wanted to follow in his footsteps. In a 2017 interview with Sportsnet, Poulin said one of her best memories growing up was playing shinny outside with him at Christmastime and coming back to their house “with red cheeks and sniffles.” She also said, “Sometimes when I have big games, stressful moments, I think about that moment, when I’m outside playing freely.”
Poulin caught her first glimpse of high-level women’s hockey during the 2002 Salt Lake City Games. She was 11 and remembers watching Canada defeat the United States to earn its first Olympic hockey gold in five decades. “I think that’s when it really started growing in my head, the little spark, the dream, maybe one day you can represent your country,” she said.
A five-foot-seven, 168-pound forward, Poulin joined the national team program in 2007. The following January, she led Canada in goal-scoring at the inaugural world under-18 championships and was named the tournament’s top forward. She made her debut with the Canadian women’s team in 2009 and has served as captain since 2015.
Olympic Winter Games
Poulin was the youngest player on the Canadian team that won gold at the 2010 Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver. Then 18, she scored five times in five games in her Olympic debut, including twice in the gold medal final, a 2–0 win over the United States.
Four years later in Sochi, Poulin reinforced her reputation as a clutch scorer. Again, she struck twice in the championship game, tying the score with less than a minute left in regulation time and then scoring the winning goal at 8:10 into extra time to complete the 3–2 comeback against the Americans.
“There’s something there with ‘Pou’,” Canadian coach Kevin Dineen told reporters at the time. “She doesn’t say a lot, but I always kind of catch her eyes and there’s something in her eyes that spells big-game player. She showed that in Vancouver and I think she put a stamp on that today.”
Poulin, who also led Canada in scoring with three goals and two assists in Sochi, called the moment unbelievable. “When I think about it, I need to pinch myself,” she said in a 2016 Toronto Star story. “It put women’s hockey on the map.”
Poulin was captain of the Canadian women’s hockey team at the 2018 Olympic Winter Games in PyeongChang. Canada won all three games in the preliminary round, including a 2–1 victory over the United States. After defeating the team of Olympic Athletes from Russia in the semifinals, Poulin and her teammates again faced the US in the gold-medal game. Poulin scored one of two Canadian goals during the second period, but the Americans tied the score in the third period and defeated Canada 3–2 in a penalty shoot-out. In total, Poulin scored three goals and three assists at PyeongChang.
Since 2007, Poulin has won eight silver medals at the world championships, including two at the under-18 level in 2008 and 2009, and one gold, in 2012. In 2013 she was the tournament’s leading scorer, top forward and MVP with six goals and six assists. She also topped Canada in scoring with two goals and four assists at the 2017 World Championships.
In 2015, two days before her 24th birthday, Poulin was announced as team captain. She has worn the ‘C’ for Canada in every major tournament since.
Poulin helped lead the Boston University Terriers to their first appearance in the Frozen Four final as a freshman in 2010–11. Over the next five years (she skipped the 2013–14 season to train and compete for Canada), she won three conference championships and was a top-three finalist for the Patty Kazmaier Award as the best player in NCAA Division I women’s hockey. In 2012–13, she was the team’s cocaptain.
In 2014–15, the same season she was a finalist for the Kazmaier, Poulin led the Terriers in scoring and was named a first team All-American. When she graduated with a degree in psychology, she was Boston University’s all-time points leader with 81 goals and 100 assists.
Canadian Women’s Hockey League
Before going away to college, Poulin played for the Montréal Stars during the CWHL’s inaugural campaign in 2007–08. She led the team with 22 goals and 43 points and was named the league’s top rookie. The following season, she was a member of the Stars squad that won the first Clarkson Cup.
Poulin returned to the CWHL in 2015–16, playing for the rebranded Canadiennes de Montréal. For two straight seasons, she led the league in scoring, won the Jayna Hefford Trophy as most outstanding player as judged by her peers, was named the CWHL’s most valuable player and suited up in the all-star game. In 2016–17, she also scored two goals in the Clarkson Cup final, including the winner, to give Montréal its fourth championship.
Poulin’s meteoric rise to the top of women’s hockey, not to mention her penchant for scoring big-game goals, has often prompted comparisons with Sidney Crosby, the Pittsburgh Penguins star. Her view? “It’s a lot,” she said in a 2017 Sportsnet Q and A. “I don’t think I can compare myself to him. I’m lucky to have people compare me to him, but I don’t think that’s the case.” Later that same year Poulin told the Toronto Star she looks up to Crosby. He “keeps raising the bar for his team and teammates, and it’s special for me to be able to watch him do that. I strive to do the same things.”
Though she has a tendency to shrug off the comparisons, Poulin, like Crosby, is widely considered one of the best ever players in her sport. Following her gold medal-winning goal in Sochi, teammate Jayna Hefford called her “the best player in women’s hockey, hands down.” She also said Poulin doesn’t get enough credit for how good she is, “and I think she showed the world tonight that she’s the best player in the world.”