CALGARY – The Canadian women’s hockey team is bent on beating the U.S. in Saturday’s exhibition game in Denver, but a few players will have more than that on their minds.
It’s decision-time for the Canadian women as three players have been released from the 2010 Olympic Games roster. Two more will be cut before the 21-player roster is named.
The Canadians head into Saturday’s game with the confidence of winning three of their last four games against archrival U.S., but a few players are not confident in their position on the team.
“The reality is there’s two more cuts to be made and everyone pretty much knows if they’re set or if they’re on the bubble,” forward Hayley Wickenheiser said. “If you’re a player that’s on the bubble and fighting for that spot, I think it’s on your mind all the time.”
Canadian head coach Melody Davidson has not revealed the date she’ll name her final roster. She also has yet to say whether she’ll keep the two players as alternates in the event of a major injury before the Olympics start Feb. 12 in Vancouver and Whistler, B.C.
Forward Brianne Jenner of Oakville, Ont., and defenders Delaney Collins of Pilot Mound, Man., and Jocelyne Larocque of Ste-Anne, Man., have been released from the team.
Canada and the U.S. are 3-3 since 26 Canadians congregated in Calgary on Aug. 2 to begin training and playing together full-time. The Olympic women’s hockey tournament starts Feb. 13 with Canada opening against Slovakia.
The Canadians are the defending champions and are expected to meet the U.S. in the gold-medal game Feb. 25 for a fourth straight Games.
Saturday’s matchup at Magness Arena at the University of Denver is the third of a six-game travelling exhibition series between the two countries. The fourth is next Tuesday at Calgary’s Pengrowth Saddledome, followed by stops Dec. 30 in St. Paul, Minn., and Jan. 1 in Ottawa.
After losing twice to the Americans in September’s Hockey Canada Cup tournament in Vancouver, Canada beat them in the first two exhibition games of the series in Victoria and Spokane, Wash., in October.
At the annual Four Nations Cup last month, they split their two meetings with the Canadians winning the final 5-1 on Nov. 7
“We haven’t played them for awhile,” Wickenheiser said. “It’s just a chance to see where we’re at, test ourselves more than anything, see what our improvements have been and try to get a win as we always try to do.”
Canada plays a regular schedule of games against men’s midget triple-A teams in the Alberta Midget Hockey League. The women currently hold an 11-5 record against boys between the ages of 15 and 18.
The national women’s team played a Junior A men’s squad – players aged 16 to 20 – for the first time Saturday. Canada edged the Calgary Canucks 3-2, thanks to a 52-save performance by Shannon Szabados in goal.
The U.S. women make Blaine, Minn., their training base and have also recruited male opposition to help them prepare for the Olympics. The Americans will name their Olympic roster Dec. 17.
“They’ve played a couple of boys teams this past week, so they’re upping their preparation,” Davidson said. “They’re not coming in having not played.”
While Davidson is satisfied with her power play and penalty-kill units so far, she’s emphasizing stronger play even-strength Saturday.
The change in altitude is a consideration Saturday as Denver, nicknamed the Mile-High city, is 1,609 metres above sea level. Calgary is 560 metres lower, while Blaine is 1,330 metres below Denver.
“It will be thinner air,” Wickenheiser said. “It does hit you. I like to think we’re a pretty fit team as well, so it shouldn’t be a factor.”
The Canadian women are a more cohesive squad than they were at the Hockey Canada Cup because they’ve become battle-hardened together.
“Trust and unity, I think that’s the big difference,” said Montreal defenceman Catherine Ward.
Added defenceman Tessa Bonhomme of Sudbury, Ont.: “Sometimes we can throw passes because we know someone is there, as opposed to taking a peak or a second peak.”
The players would like the stress and tension of not knowing who is on the team to be over. Since Davidson is allowed to carry three goaltenders into the Olympics, two skaters are on the bubble.
“This a game of not knowing,” Bonhomme said. “It’s a game of mistakes when you play and nothing is ever a for-sure. That’s why we play it and that’s why we love it.