PLYMOUTH, Mich. — The ache has faded for Caroline Ouellette.
After their official team photo at the world championships, the Canadian women's hockey team skated to the benches to exchange their game jerseys for practice gear and then got to work.
It's a ritual Ouellette was part of in a dozen world championships during her 16 years on the national team. But this time she remained in a warm-up tracksuit.
Ouellette has returned for a 13th world championship, but not as a player. The 37-year-old from Montreal is an assistant coach to Laura Schuler in Plymouth.
Two years ago, Ouellette scored the fifth goal in a wild 7-5 loss to the U.S. in the world final in Malmo, Sweden. She also scored the overtime winner when Canada last won a world title in 2012.
She's now on the ice in practices, but not behind the bench in games. Ouellette sits in the stands with general manager Melody Davidson and scouts.
"I just stopped playing on this team, so I didn't think I'd be back this fast," Ouellette said.
"I'm helping the players individually with video. I'm helping with scouting. I'm really being the assistant of the assistants."
She felt a void watching her teammates play without her in last year's world championship in Kamloops, B.C. The pangs Ouellette felt then also helped her come to terms with her retirement.
"I had played on the team the year before, but as the tournament progressed and I saw the speed and the quality of the play, I realized I'm not there anymore," Ouellette said.
"I was ready to move onto the next chapter in my life which is coaching."
That's not to say she doesn't miss it. Ouellette spent almost half her life representing Canada in international hockey.
"It's hard," Ouellette said. "You realize there's nothing better than playing.
"Being in a game that's close where you can have an impact, where you can be part of a great team play that makes a difference on whether you win or lose, the emotions and the goose bumps you get in those hard moments, I don't think anything else can bring that."
Thirteen players on Canada's current world championship roster won Olympic gold with Ouellette in 2014.
She and they began adjusting to their new relationship when Ouellette participated in the national team's annual September camp as a coach.
Ouellette continued to play in the Canadian Women's Hockey League this past season. She and Canadian captain Marie-Philip Poulin won a Clarkson Cup with the Montreal Canadiennes in March.
Ouellette ranks third all-time in scoring on Canada's national team behind Hayley Wickenheiser and Jayna Hefford with 87 goals and 155 assists in 220 career games.
She owns four Olympic and six world championship gold medals. Size, strength and speed made the five-foot-11, 170-pound forward difficult to contain.
Ouellette and Schuler were roommates in 1997 when they both tried out for Canada's first Olympic women's hockey team.
"She couldn't speak a word of English," Schuler recalled.
That's certainly changed. Ouellette is a compelling orator in both languages and her messages get a response from players.
"She always speaks from the heart, which is why I really wanted to have her be a part of our staff because she brings that passion," Schuler said.
Because of her successful career and because she's been in trenches with many of them, Ouellette commands the players' attention.
"She's been there and she's done it," assistant captain Haley Irwin said. "She's seen the highs of the highs and the lows of the lows and everything in between."
Added Ouellette: "I think I have the respect of the players that I played with at the same level I respect them.
"I think I can talk to them as a friend, as a coach, or as someone that needs to send a direct and harsh message. I feel like I can deliver that."
She joins a number of former national team players in the coaching ranks.
University of Calgary Dinos head coach Danielle Goyette was an assistant of the 2014 Olympic team. Hefford and Vicky Sunohara are both behind the University of Toronto Varsity Blues bench.
Former national team players Delaney Collins, Noemie Marin and Amanda Benoit-Wark were on the coaching staffs of Canada's development (under-22) and under-18 women's teams this season.
Ouellette doesn't expect to be on Canada's coaching staff at next year's Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea. She says she needs more experience.
"I know I have to go back and start as a head coach within the program with the under-18 team, the development team and make my way back up," Ouellette said. "Certainly maybe 2022."
Donna Spencer, The Canadian Press