Eight IIHF World Women’s Championship gold medals, two Olympic gold medals, and nine Four Nations Cup gold medals. It’s not hyperbole to say that Canada’s National Women’s Hockey Team is undeniably the most successful in the world. Hosting the World Championship for the first time since Halifax 2004, Team Canada is looking to re-establish its preeminence after losing its title to the United States at the 2005 tournament in Sweden. Despite not giving up a goal in regulation or overtime, Canada was forced to settle for silver after losing 1-0 to the USA in a shootout. Prior to this, Canada had beaten the Americans in eight consecutive World Championship finals. Team Canada proved that defeat was merely a hiccup at the 2006 Olympics, however, as they outscored opponents 46-2 en route to their second straight Olympic gold medal. Currently occupying top spot in the IIHF Women’s World Rankings, Canada’s current roster is nearly identical to that of last year’s Olympic squad, with 17 starters returning to compete in Winnipeg. They are solid in net, on defence, and up front, and they have a coaching staff as experienced as you could ask for. And with 65,951 registered female hockey players in Canada, it’s not surprising that they are able to fill each position with the best of the best. On this year’s team, only defenceman Tessa Bonhomme has never played in a World Championship or Olympics before. Forwards Katie Weatherston and Meghan Agosta also haven’t competed in World Championship action, but both these talented youngsters were members of the team in Turin. Everyone else knows what it takes to win at both levels of competition, and this will give Team Canada a distinct advantage over the opposition.
Coaching: Melody Davidson resumes her duties behind the bench for Team Canada. Named Canada’s National Women’s Team Head Coach on , Davidson has been hugely successful in her coaching efforts thus far. She’s hard-driving in her approach and a skilled teacher, and she has guided Canada’s National Women’s Team to six medals in different competitions (five gold and one silver) within the last three years. In 2006, Davidson added the title of general manager to her coaching duties, and she also signed an extension through the 2010 Winter Olympics. Her assistant coaches include Barry Medori (Edmonton Chimos), Peter Smith (McGill University), and Stephanie White (Mississauga Aeros). With an extensive support staff in place, no team will be better prepared than Canada.
Goal: Coach Davidson still hasn’t revealed who will be Team Canada’s primary starter, but it’s a win-win situation either way. Both 28-year-old Kim St-Pierre and 24-year-old Charline Labonté are fully capable of leading this team to a gold medal. St-Pierre is a veteran of five World Championships and two Olympic Games, and she would normally be considered Canada’s starter, but at the 2006 Olympics, it was Labonté who was front and centre, playing in both the semifinal and final. In backstopping Canada to the gold medal in Turin, Labonté proved that she is a first-string calibre goalie. Team Canada could hypothetically have a goaltending controversy on its hands, but these two women will only push each other to be better.
Defence: Canadian defencemen Delaney Collins (29), Cheryl Pounder (30), and Carla MacLeod (24) finished third, fifth, and sixth in overall points at the 2005 World Championship. They combined for an impressive 10 points, as well as a plus-minus rating of +25. All three are back to wreak havoc once again, and Canada’s penalty kill will also remain at the top because of their presence. In addition, Colleen Sostorics (27) and Gillian Ferrari (26) are as reliable as defencemen come, so Canada’s blueline is once again ready to keep the competition in check.
Forward: Hayley Wickenheiser. That name alone is enough to scare opposing goaltenders. Named MVP of the 2006 Olympics, Wickenheiser (28) is Canada’s all-time leading scorer, but she only represents the start of this team’s powerful offence. Caroline Ouellette (27), Sarah Vaillancourt (21), Jennifer Botterill (27), and Gillian Apps (23) all help make Team Canada an offensive powerhouse. Meghan Agosta is coming off a mind-blowingly good season with Mercyhurst College, where she was named a Patty Kazmaier Award finalist (the first freshman to receive that distinction in NCAA women’s hockey history). The 20-year-old’s 34 goals were the best in American college hockey. Canada’s forwards, who scored an average of 7.6 goals per game at the 2005 World Championship, are quick, and they move the puck extremely well. Opposing defences will struggle to match Team Canada’s offensive agility and communication. The only major omission is Cherie Piper, who played right wing on Canada’s number one line with Wickenheiser and Apps in Turin. She’s currently out of commission with a knee injury.
Projected Results: The skill and experience of the Canadians should be enough to help them win their ninth World Championship title, but just in case their confidence falters along the way, fans of the red and white will be out in full force in Winnipeg to support their team. There are no holes in Canada’s line-up, and this team has its sights set firmly on the finals. Now if the United States can also make its way to the finals, Canada will relish the opportunity to avenge its 2005 World Championship loss to the Americans.