LAKE PLACID, N.Y. – The Canadian women’s hockey team hit the reboot button ahead of their Four Nations Cup final Sunday against the U.S.
The players didn’t practice or talk Saturday as if the sky had fallen after losing to Sweden for the first time in women’s hockey history. But while Friday’s loss didn’t cost them a berth in the championship game, it still rankled.
“We got up this morning and the sun’s not shining because it’s raining, but it did come up somewhere,” head coach Melody Davidson said. “I think we’re good. Everyone is pissed. They didn’t want to lose and they’re ready to go for tomorrow.”
The more experienced players – on one of the youngest lineups Canada has fielded in women’s international hockey – felt it was important to show their younger teammates how to pick themselves up and brush themselves off.
“I think it’s the way you carry yourself,” captain Hayley Wickenheiser said. “You try and be relaxed and loose. It’s keeping consistent. When it’s good it can’t be so good, when it’s bad you it can’t be so bad. You have to stay as you are.”
Added forward Sarah Vaillancourt: “I’m rooming with Jocelyne Larocque and we definitely had a conversation. You know what? It’s not the end of the world that we lost to Sweden and it’s good for women’s hockey. Everyone is improving and everyone wants to beat us. We have this huge target on our backs and it’s only going to make us better.”
The players met with the coaches in the morning and a session with mental training consultant Dr. Peter Jensen was planned for the afternoon.
The sports psychology session wasn’t in response to the loss because it had been scheduled prior to it, Davidson said. The coaches don’t sit in on those sessions, so the players feel free to air what’s on their minds.
“It’s real important they have those avenues without the coaches hovering over them,” Davidson said. “It’s their time to let loose and if they want to complain about us they can. I trust the players and P.J. and if there’s things I need to know, it’s up to them to decide if anything needs to come to me.”
The session with Jensen primarily helps the players understand each other better, but are also cathartic, Vaillancourt said.
“First of all, it makes us feel so happy when we have our sessions with Peter,” she explained. “Everyone feels life is great after them. It’s a reset and we feel ‘this is what we need to do.”‘
Canada has won this annual international women’s hockey tournament four years running, but the U.S. is the reigning world champion after concluding the world championship in April with back-to-back wins over Canada.
The Canadians recovered from a sluggish first period with a strong third in a 4-2 win over the U.S. on Thursday.
While Davidson says her players are working hard, she wants to see more killer instinct in their one-on-one battles.
“We need energy and emotion,” she said. “The gold medal game in the end isn’t so much about X’s and O’s. It’s about the accumulation of the whole week and what you’ve learned about the opposition and each other, and then being able to minimize momentum swings and maximize the ones in your favour.”
It will show on the ice Sunday if this young Canadian team’s confidence is suddenly fragile.
“There’s some young players here who are trying to make the Olympic team in 2010 and everyone is fighting for a spot, so now you kind of see the character people have,” Wickenheiser said.
The U.S. lost to Finland for the first time at the world championships in April and responded with two straight wins over Canada. American forward Natalie Darwitz expects Canada to rebound from the loss to the Swedes.
“I’m sure they’re disappointed, but they’ve got a championship game tomorrow and they’ll be ready,” she said.
“For us, the key is to keep our intensity for three periods. Canada can be beaten, as was shown last night. We’re going off our game two days ago. We had our chances to beat them.”
The Americans outplayed and outchanced Canada to start Thursday’s game and they intend to sustain that pressure longer.
“Take better care of the puck,” head coach Katey Stone said. “We got a little hesitant at times. I don’t think this is a team that should slow things down and play very deliberately. We have so much talent and so much speed, as does Canada, that you’ve got to go, go, go.”
Canada’s power play is 0-for-15 so far in this tournament and Davidson says she’ll take responsibility for that.
“I don’t settle into five-man units very early and I’m not settling into it here, so it’s hard for them to get a feel,” she said. “We’ve stuck pretty much with set lines, but the defence have changed.
“I want them to score on the power play and I want them to be successful, but I want to stick to some process here and see how different people play in different situations.”
Stone wouldn’t reveal her starting goalie for Sunday. Molly Schaus of Boston College was in the net Thursday, but Wisconsin’s Jessie Vetter was a big performer in her team’s victory in the world championship final.
Davidson said she would not decide on a starting goaltender until game time. Kim St. Pierre was in net for the win over the U.S. and the loss to Sweden.