Photo: The Canadian Press

Davidson Driving Women's Game Further

A true builder for women’s hockey will be in the arena when Hockey Canada’s national team takes to the ice in Ottawa, ON for the 2013 Women’s World Championship.

Though she won’t be behind the bench this time around, Melody Davidson (Calgary, AB) – the head coach of two Olympic gold medal winning teams (2006 and 2010) and multiple world champions – remains a huge influence on the team as Canada’s women get set to defend their world title.

As the national program’s head scout, Davidson’s mission has been to travel all across North America to make sure that no talent is left unseen – a job she says was an easy transition from coaching.

“We used to scout all the time as coaches anyway,” said Davidson, who is joined by six volunteer scouts across the country. “So I had a good feel for what it was all about. You’re in the trenches every day watching hockey. You’ll be at the rinks watching everything from midgets to watching the seniors. You get a good idea of where we are at and what we have to focus on as a team.”

Photo: The Canadian Press

Melody Davidson has had a seamless transition from the coaching ranks to become the top women’s scout for Hockey Canada. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jacques Boissinot

Davidson explains that the success of the national team and the integration of more opportunities for women and girls in the sport has developed a much deeper poor of talent to choose from.

“It all starts with our (local) branches,” said Davidson. “They’ve done a good job of building strong programs. We now have under-18 Canadian and World Championships. The Olympics is always going to be a huge drawing card … kids want to play there because it’s their NHL, but hockey is also a great avenue to get a good education and get an undergraduate degree.”

She says the game has evolved in such a way that athletes are coming into the program a lot more prepared to play internationally.

“The speed, skill, size and fitness of the athletes has changed,” said Davidson. “Someone asked me if a 15-year-old would crack the lineup these days and I laughed and said no chance. A teenager doesn’t have the training base to beat out the players.”

Indeed, the team is stronger, bigger, fitter and more skilled it has ever been.

Davidson says the goal this time around is to ‘own’ more of the ice while playing like the prototypical Canadian team: gritty and fast. Many of the younger core players who have helped transform the women’s program into this bigger and faster team are now taking their elite international experience  shouldering more responsibilities before the squad gets ready for the ultimate goal of defending its Olympic gold medal from 2010.

“Last year was about getting them that experience and playing in front of a big crowd,” said Davidson. “This year we’re looking for them to step up and take the load off some of the veterans so that we’re more of a threat across four lines.”

Photo: The Canadian Press

Out of the 23 players selected to this current team, 14 of them return from the 2010 roster that won gold. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

Davidson says the experience her Vancouver 2010 team gained will be invaluable as younger players learn to channel the emotion and excitement of playing in front of a home. Out of the 23 players selected to this current team, 14 of them return from the 2010 roster that won gold, including Sarah Vaillancourt (Sherbrooke, QC), Hayley Wickenheiser (Shaunavon, SK), Jayna Hefford (Kingston, ON), Caroline Ouellette (Montreal, QC), Gillian Apps (Unionville, ON), Meghan Agosta-Marciano (Ruthven, ON) and Charline Labonté (Boisbriand, QC) – winners of multiple Olympic medals.

The veterans will be looked upon to guide an influx of younger players including Lauriane Rougeau (Beaconsfield, QC), Laura Fortino (Hamilton, ON), Bailey Bram (Ste. Anne, MB), Brianne Jenner (Oakville, ON), Natalie Spooner (Scarborough, ON) and Marie-Philip Poulin (Beauceville, QC) – all born after the inaugural 1990 World Championship was held Mar. 19-25.

The tournament will be an opportunity to gage the team before an Olympic year that will see a clear surge in level of play internationally.  But as targeted development continues in this country, Davidson’s confidence in the program is clearly strong and proud – a good sign from a leader who has created a legacy for women’s hockey and created more opportunities for Canada’s women to continue being the best in the world.

“A lot of good young players are coming up and it’s only going to take the game to new heights and new levels,” she said. “It’s going to be more competitive within Canada and it will be harder to make the team and stay with the team. I think it’s a real exciting time for females in hockey.”

All games will be broadcast on TSN.

–  George Fadel