From the outside, it looked like she was at the top of her game.
Erin Ambrose was making a name for herself internationally as a passionate defender with competitive fire in her soul. But there was a rival she couldn’t beat. Beneath the helmet, Ambrose was struggling.
“One of the hardest things for me was knowing that my successes had not brought me overall happiness,” Ambrose said. “I think from a very young age, I didn’t understand why.”
By 16 years old, Ambrose felt a growing feeling of emptiness, giving way to anxiety and depression. But she was still a rising star.
Seven years later, she was still trying to put personal well-being on the back burner in pursuit of the 2018 Olympics.
When her mental health struggles started bleeding into all areas of her life, things came apart fast.
Just months before the games, Ambrose was cut from Team Canada.
“As much as I wanted to get out and play hockey again, I was very frustrated at night. I wasn’t happy with things and how they had gone,” Ambrose recalled from the Calgary bubble.
“I knew that hockey was still a part of me that I love but I wanted to find the actual love for the game and not just love for me being a hockey player.”
At only 23 years old, she found herself facing an identity crisis. Who was Erin Ambrose the person when you took hockey away?
One player who spent their career stopping pucks came through with a big assist.
Emerance Maschmeyer had also been released from the squad and reached out to her friend.
“I said, ‘Hey, you know what, you should come to Montreal,'” Maschmeyer said. “I love it here and I think that you’ll find a way to love the game again here.”
There may be no quick fix when it comes to mental health, but Ambrose did find a lot of small wins even in the losses.
After the CWHL-leading Canadiennes were upset in the 2018 Clarkson Cup playoffs, Ambrose and Maschmeyer fought through the tears of loss with a pact.
“We kind of went into our own area and had our moment,” Ambrose said.
“It was a tough year. There was no denying that and what we had both been through.
“We just both said to each other: ‘Whatever we have to do to be there in the Olympics in 2022.'”
“I think it was in a back storage room,” Maschmeyer added. “She’s like, ‘We’re gonna make that goal. We’re gonna do it.’ And we shook hands.”
Through the rollercoaster of their league folding, forming the PWHPA and dealing with a global pandemic, Ambrose acknowledges there are still many ups and downs. But by taking care of herself, she’s given herself the energy to fight for the next generation of female hockey players with the PWHPA.
Ambrose scored the game-tying goal for Montreal’s Team Bauer en route to a 3-2 win over Toronto’s Team Sonnet in the opening match of the Secret Dream Gap Tour on Monday afternoon.
“One of the best things is being able to just rely on people and lean on people that means a lot to me. I often get texts from Marie-Philip Poulin, just asking how my heart is.
“That’s something that means more to me than I think she’ll ever know.”
“They’re amazing human beings,” Poulin said of Ambrose and Maschmeyer. “I see incredible hockey players and when you see them behind that helmet, they’re even better.”
And as for the Olympic pact, the dream is very much alive.
Both Ambrose and Maschmeyer have been named to Team Canada’s tryout roster for 2022.