"There's more to life than being a hockey player."
That is not a quote that would have been attributed to a 13 year-old Danielle Rancourt. It is equally unlikely that the graduate of College Notre Dame would have uttered those words at the age of 18.
But a decade later, having spent the past five years in Grand Forks (North Dakota) and more than six years removed from her final game with the Vermont Catamounts, it is a much different perspective that the performance dietician and personal trainer now offers.
"I tell some of the athletes that I work with that hockey was a vehicle for my success," said Rancourt. "I had always thought that it would be my success, but it turned out to be a vehicle for other kinds of success."
The fact that things did not go exactly as planned is not all that unusual for the former Lady Wolves' defender, who would spend more time as an NCAA forward than the position she had worked to master throughout her younger years.
"I had a very unusual path to Division I hockey compared to a lot of the girls I went to college with," she said. "Most of those athletes know by grade 11 what their plans are for college. When I was in grade 12 at CND, I still didn't know what I was doing."
Ultimately, some words of advice from personal trainer Cal McGibbon played a part in a cross-country detour the prospect would take. "He said something like, "if you think you deserve more, don't settle for less"," recalled Rancourt.
Three days before the beginning of the 2009-2010 school year, the young woman who had skipped a grade much earlier in her childhood opted to call in that chip, eschewing a Division III offer on the table to attend Pursuit of Excellence Hockey Academy in British Columbia. Twelve months later, Rancourt was a freshman with the University of Vermont.
"It is so crazy for me to think of everything that had to fall into place in order for me to wear that jersey," she said. "The only reason that there was a spot open at Vermont was that someone decided to transfer. It was pretty neat to take the risk, make the sacrifice and see it fall into place."
Still, this was but step one. And while Rancourt would eventually suit up in every single game that her team played over the course of her four years in Burlington (VT), her time, much like the geographic features of the city itself, contained a fair bit of ups and downs.
"You grow up as one of the best players on your team and figure it will be like that your entire life," she stated. "In my freshman year, I was on the fourth line. That was a tough pill to swallow. I have never been on the fourth line for any of the sports that I played."
In hindsight, there are likely two defining moments to the post-secondary career of the local product who would register 24 points (10G / 14A) over 134 games. A victim of the dreaded "freshman fifteen" and not earning the playing time that she wished for, Rancourt took a very serious look at her nutritional habits prior to her sophomore year.
"I wasn't eating really badly - I thought I was eating well - but I wasn't eating as an athlete should eat," she said. "If I was to make a difference in my second year, I had to lean out, lean out so that I could be faster, more explosive."
Between that and her continued devotion to a strict off-ice training regimen, Rancourt would find results. "Coming back in my sophomore year was one of the coolest things I have ever experienced," she said. "I was a completely different athlete. I had never felt that fast in my life."
A huge part of the energetic "grinder line" that would often start games for the Catamounts, Rancourt was making her name on the ice. But key graduations and an untimely injury in her senior year proved problematic for the 5'3" winger, who had ascended to the role of associate captain with the team.
Thankfully, a project that she spearheaded, one that continues to this day, provided a source of great pride for the volunteer at heart. With budget cuts creating dietary issues with the Meals on Wheels program in Burlington, Rancourt created a fundraiser that would not only offer financial support for the group, but also target a new Hockey East women's hockey attendance record in the process.
"I was at the elementary schools, on the news, trying to create an awareness about the women's hockey program, but also working this fundraiser," she explained. "I was trying really hard to be a good leader, even though I was not playing as much. It helped me grow as a person. I created a charity that still lives on."
Rancourt would follow her graduation from Vermont in 2014 with a jam-packed year as a dietetic intern with St Louis University, one of only six applicants selected among a group of 144 hopefuls. She completed an accelerated masters in Sport Nutrition as well as the required 1200 hours of supervised practice, all while also earning her credentials as a personal trainer.
"The transformation that I had, physically and athletically, was just so life-changing in so many ways," she stated. "I want to help people do this, I want to help people be faster, stronger, improve their athletic performance via nutrition, help them feel the way that I felt."
There is an undeniable sense of accomplishment that comes with the territory. For both athlete and coach, there is a shared sense of achieving success. It provides a personal barometer with which Danielle Rancourt is completely at ease.
"It's funny to think that I'm not really remembered at Vermont as a hockey player," she said. "People remember that I was on the hockey team, but I was that girl on the hockey team that created the charity."
"I think that is more me than anything else."