Canada vs. the USA: The match-up and rivalry is synonymous with women’s hockey itself.
Since the inception of World Championship play in 1990, the two nations have met in the final a remarkable 14 out of 14 times with Canada winning 10 of those matches – including the 2012 version in Burlington, Vermont.
It seems only fitting that both teams would open their Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship tournament facing each other on Tuesday in front of what will surely be a patriotic home crowd when they take to the ice in Kanata, ON.
“We’ll go into this tournament just like any other,” said defenceman Meaghan Mikkelson (St. Albert, AB). “(We’ll go) into every game as prepared as we possibly can and focusing on our game rather than the opponent. We don’t want to think about how many people are in the stands or who’s there and where we’re playing. We’re just thinking about what we need to do to win hockey games.”
Canada will be in good position to defend its title on home soil with 22 players returning from their 2012 championship squad.
The National Women’s Team was selected by head coach Dan Church, assistant coaches Danielle Goyette and Lisa Haley, along with Hockey Canada scouts, led by head scout of women’s national team programs Melody Davidson.
“Given the depth of women’s hockey in Canada, it is always a challenge to select the world championship roster, and getting to our final 23 was a difficult process,” said Davidson. “We are excited about the talent level on this team and look forward to watching them play in Ottawa as they strive to bring home an 11th gold medal.”
Canada has never lost a Word Championship it has hosted; winning gold in 1990 (Ottawa, ON), 1997 (Kitchener, ON), 2000 (Mississaugua, ON), 2004 (Halifax, NS) and 2007 (Winnipeg, MB).
Last year’s poor start to the tournament is still fresh on the squad’s mind. The team opened the tournament with a 9-2 drubbing at the hands of the U.S. to mark Canada’s worst ever loss in international play. Canada had never given up more than seven goals to the USA in 102 previous meetings.
“We honestly haven’t talked about it,” said Mikkelson. “But it’s in the back of our minds. We all know how that felt and we don’t want to feel that again. We were pretty embarrassed by that performance. It was a huge learning experience for us and we’re not going to let happen, ever again.”
This tournament will serve as a great measuring point for the 2014 Winter Olympic Games with the eight-team field already set for Sochi. Canada will see familiar names in its pool from the World Championship teams it will be facing.
After the U.S. (ranked second in the world), Canada is scheduled to play Switzerland (ranked third) on Apr. 3 followed by Finland (ranked fourth) in Kanata – a team the Canadians will be facing less than a year from now when they attempt to defend Olympic gold.
But right now, the team is focused on the task at hand.
“I think we’re using it (the World Championships) as a stepping stone,” said Mikkelson. “It’s part of the process to get there. It’s one tournament at a time. We’re thinking about what we need to do to be successful in each game of this tournament.”
Canada’s women defeated the U.S. in their opening game of the tournament by a score of 3-2 after a shootout. The hard fought battle saw Canada come back from a 2-0 deficit thanks to goals from Rebecca Johnston (Sudbury, ON) and Catherine Ward (Montreal, QC) in the third period. Jennifer Wakefield (Pickering, ON) scored the winner in the shootout.
The biggest names in women’s hockey will continue to take to the ice up until the finals on Apr. 9th and all games featuring Canada will air on TSN.
– George Fadel