Many people, especially Canadians, dream about becoming professional hockey players. The dream became an unexpected reality for Montreal Force defenseperson Gabrielle De Serres when the former Varsity Blues player signed a one-year contract with the Force of the Premier Hockey League (PHF) — a professional North American women’s hockey league — in October 2022. 

“It’s kind of surreal,” De Serres told The Varsity. “Growing up, it’s not something that was ever a possibility. I think a lot of young guy players will grow up with the hope of making it to the show, and it’s always that dream, whereas for us [girls], it was never really a possibility. So seeing it all unfold and being able to play for my hometown has been surreal, because it’s never something I thought was ever gonna happen.” 

Growing up, U SPORTS and Team Canada were what De Serres thought were the highest levels for girls. “After that, that’s where you hung up your skates, and your career was over,” she said. 

Fortunately for De Serres, women’s hockey continues to grow, and she has been able to continue her hockey career playing in the PHF. However, it wasn’t until De Serres’ later years of university that she realized that going professional was a possibility. 

Her older sister, Mathilde, also played for the Blues and played professional hockey in Germany in 2021. De Serres saw hope because of her sister’s success but was never sure if she would be able to make a career out of playing hockey. 

Before going pro, Gabrielle was stellar in blue and white. She was the Ontario University Athletics (OUA) MVP in 2022 and named a U SPORTS Academic All–Canadian. She was a part of the OUA All–Rookie team in 2018 and won the McCaw Cup with the Blues in 2020, which she says is her favourite memory as a Blue.

“When we won the McCaw Cup, it was my best moment of university, because my sister was still on the team, and it’s the kind of moment that’s very special to be able to share with someone like a relative,” said De Serres. She stated that sharing the win with her family is a memory she’ll have forever.  

While the McCaw Cup was De Serres’ greatest achievement as a Blue, she made sure to note that she faced challenges along the way. The Rotman graduate spent five years at U of T but only played in four seasons due to the cancellation of the 2021 OUA season as a result of COVID-19.

Despite the tough times, the pandemic solidified De Serres’ love for hockey. Her initial plan was to graduate and enter the workplace, but she wanted to give pro hockey a shot. “If you truly love something, it’s not because everybody else is going in a certain direction. Sometimes if you have the opportunity you might as well go for something that’s kind of like a dream because you’ll regret it if you don’t attempt to go for it.” 

Her decision paid off on November 5, 2022 — she made her professional debut with the Force, and on November 26, she got to play her first pro game in Montréal with friends and family in the audience. 

De Serres told The Varsity that the time management she learned as a student athlete helps her as a professional, because she works a full-time job at a startup company in the operations and customer success department. 

“It’s very similar to school where you have a busy schedule, and you need to maintain that level of [competitiveness] while getting your [own] things done.” 

She says one big difference between U SPORTS and professional hockey is that, despite the same expectations to compete, there are different outcomes if performance isn’t good enough. “At school you still have an expectation to compete, but at the end of the day, you’re coming back the next year,” she said. “[At] Pro, if you’re not performing you could be nearing the end of your career.”

De Serres wants to continue her pro career and contribute to growing women’s hockey beyond this season. “I’m definitely hoping for a second year in the league. I had a really good experience, and it’s our first year, so we have so much building that we can and have to do. I would love to be a part of that journey.” 

De Serres is excited for where the journey takes her as she continues to grow with women’s hockey.