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How do you win Olympic hockey gold? Ask Jennifer Botterill

The three-time Olympic champion may not be skating with Canada anymore, but she knows what it takes to thrive and survive the pressure-packed Games atmosphere

Canada’s women’s team is gunning for their fourth straight gold medal at the Olympics and it won’t be easy. Sure, they are co-favorites with Team USA, but the Americans certainly want revenge for settling on silver so often. And while Canada boasts veterans such as Marie-Philip Poulin and Meghan Agosta, there are also youngsters on the squad, taking in the Olympics for the first time.

For retired Canadian star Jennifer Botterill, the Games represented the biggest stage possible, so I asked her to pass on advice for the newbies on Canada’s squad. First and foremost, Botterill pointed out that even the world championships cannot prepare a player for what they are experiencing right now in Korea.

“It’s very different, there’s nothing like the Olympics,” she said. “The atmosphere, the energy, the excitement…the advice I would give to first-time Olympians is to enjoy it, but remain focused on the task at hand. It’s staying within your ideal performance state.”

This is only the second Olympic women’s hockey tournament not to feature Botterill, who won silver in 1998, followed by three gold medals for the forward. Obviously, she got the focus part down-pat during her run, and knowing that there’s still time to cruise around the venues and the host city after the women’s tourney is done was key.

While the tournament is ongoing, however, keeping tabs on other Canadian athletes was a good way of keeping emotions in a positive space during downtime at the Olympic Village.

“One of the neatest things about the Olympics is that you can feed off other people’s success,” Botterill said. “Even though you’re staying in the Village, you’re watching coverage of the other athletes and that’s contagious.”

Getting support from other Canadian Olympians was also great. Members of the men’s hockey team have often shown up to the women’s games and vice versa. And it wasn’t just fellow puckheads breaking out the pom-poms.

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“It was a support network for hockey, but it was also across the field for Canadian athletes,” Botterill said. “If you were in the Village, you were talking with other athletes. One of the pre-game meetings we had in Salt Lake City, Jamie Sale and David Pelletier, the figure skaters, came to talk to us. Steve Yzerman spoke to us in Vancouver. So you learn from the people around you.”

Perhaps the most important lesson, however, is that the team must stick to that old hockey cliché of taking things one game at a time. Sure, the Canucks and Americans are the only outfits to win gold in the women’s tournament, but let’s not forget Team USA’s shocking loss to Sweden in Torino, sending the Americans to the bronze medal game instead of the championship final back in 2006. The two North American squads are still the cream of the crop in 2018, but the level of other nations is at least rising. A hot goaltender could spell doom for a favorite if the players don’t keep their heads up.

 “Our team always did a good job of that,” Botterill said. “You do have to prepare for each moment and if you start thinking about the end result too soon, then you’re not going to be at your best for every shift and every period. As an athlete, you can’t take anything for granted.”

Put in the work, and a gold medal could be the reward. It’s worked pretty well for Canada in the past four Olympics.