Sports Canadian women’s hockey team wants Olympic gold. But they aren’t living in 2018

Sports Canadian women’s hockey team wants Olympic gold. But they aren’t living in 2018

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sports Canada's women's ice hockey player Micah Zandee-Hart reacts during a training session at the Wukesong Arena ahead of the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics.
Canada’s women’s ice hockey player Micah Zandee-Hart reacts during a training session at the Wukesong Arena ahead of the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics. Photo by David W. Cerny /Reuters

BEIJING – One of Team Canada’s final practices before things get real here had just about everything coach Troy Ryan could ask for from his hungry group.

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Pushing the 90-minute mark as Monday morning in Beijing bled into afternoon at the sensational Wukesong Sports Centre, the gold medal favourite Canadians were putting in the work.

You want upbeat? A team with 10 first-time Olympians was flying on the fast, hard ice of the rink that will be the main venue for the women’s tournament.

You want high intensity? There was plenty in the spirited workout, with no coasting through numerous forechecking drills that only added to the vibe.

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It certainly felt like the rejuvenated group of Canadian women are both hungry to get going and determined to get ascend back to the top of the hockey world.

“Four years is a long time,” said Oakville, Ont.’s Brianne Jenner, who was part of the silver medal team in Korea in 2018 that was devastated in a gold medal shootout showdown against the rival U.S. “Obviously there were big tournaments and big events along the way, but I think the Olympics is the pinnacle for us.

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“We put in all the work we can. We’re prepared. Now it’s time to go out there, enjoy the moment and play our way.”

The Canadians already had four practices in China so they are well acclimatized to the time zones. Odds are Ryan will dial it back a little before Wednesday’s opener against Switzerland as the team looks to start preliminary round play with a flourish.

Here in Beijing and throughout the pre-Games preparation at their Calgary home base, the Canadians paid heightened attention to detail. Judging by the jump from the latest workout, they’re ready to get after it.

“We’re just trying to have purpose with every practice,” said Laura Stacy, a forward from Kleinburg, Ont. “I think we’re getting lots out of what we’ve been doing.”

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Like most of her teammates, Stacy is fond of the Wukesong rink, which played host to basketball at the 2008 Summer Games and housed the Kunlun Red Star of the Kontinental Hockey League.

If you want symmetry, the venue that lit up with LeBron James and the late Kobe Bryant leading the U.S. to a dramatic gold medal win over Spain in a memorable showdown, could also house the next Olympic title clash between Canada and the U.S. on Feb. 17.

Specifically, the Canadians favour the ice here, a surface that suits their up-tempo approach.

“I think we want to play with speed but more importantly we want to move the puck quick,” Stacy said “That’s also how we play with speed in our game, with our decision making.

“When we’re playing well, that’s the cornerstone of our game – the quick transitions going north-south with the puck and making the most of turnovers.”

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The Canadians are obviously thrilled to be here, not in a wide-eyed sense but with the usual heightened expectation that greets the showcase of the women’s hockey quadrennial.

Yes, the loss in 2018 stung deeply, but perhaps it was the impetus for some needed change to keep the women’s program headed forward. There are the 10 first-time Olympians, of course, and Ryan, who has brought a fresh approach and mindset.

“We were able to rebound coming up the next September and completely shift our culture and focus to these Olympics because it wasn’t the result that we wanted,” Hamilton, Ont.’s Sarah Nurse said of the aftermath of the Pyeongchang punch out. “But I think that was something that we needed to get us to the place we are here in 2022.”

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There will be no shootout heartbreak this year in part because there can’t be – the International Ice Hockey Federation has changed its format to have overtime continue into sudden death should it the score be squared after 20 minutes of extra time.

As for the grind of preparing for a tournament that is suddenly right in front of them, having so manynewbies has heightened the expectation.

“It’s made these last few days a lot of fun,” Stacy said. “Just seeing how bright (the rookies’) eyes are trying on all their gear and taking it all in.

“On the ice, I don’t think they come off as rookies, but that youthful energy, you can just feel it. They have been so great for us all year in their different roles. It’s been so much hun this week having the 10 Olympic rookies here and feeding off of their enthusiasm.”

Truthfully, the feeling and the impending experience is tough to beat for all of the 23 women the Canadian roster.

“Any time you step on the ice at the Olympics and you see the rings everywhere and skating alongside some of your best friends … it’s hard to put it into words,” Jenner said. “The ice is fast. The jerseys look awesome. It’s been great. It’s been a great start for us.

“We’re living in the moment right now. Showing up at the rink every day with a smile and a positive attitude. We’re ready to get going.”

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