Melody Davidson knew the foundation was strong and she had the right mix of bricks and mortar when she named her centralized roster of players for 2010 Winter Olympic Games in March 2009.
But Canada’s loss to the U.S. in the final of the 2009 IIHF World Women’s Championship a few weeks later showed her where the house needed reinforcement, if the Canadian women were going to defend their Olympic gold medal.
“I think was a big defining moment,” Davidson recalled. “We had to be mentally tougher. We had to get out of our comfort zone in a lot of areas.”
Davidson had a successful template to work from because she coached Canada to gold at the 2006 Olympics in Turin, Italy. Her challenge was to draw the good from that vision, but also take Canada to another level for the Games in Vancouver, B.C.
The pressure for the Canadian women to win gold in Vancouver was immense. Gold was not a sure bet because the Americans won two world titles in a row heading into the Games.
“We’d lost two Worlds back to back and we were going for a third straight gold medal in the Olympic Games on home soil,” Davidson said.
“The girls could play the game, no question. It was how they responded to each other, how they responded
to situations within the game, to situations outside the game that might affect their moods or dispositions
when they come to us. That had to be challenged.”
Her players describe Davidson as the Queen of Preparation and the Oyen, Alta., native took that to a new level for 2010.
It started with a 24-day boot camp in Dawson Creek, B.C., just a few weeks after the loss to the U.S. While Canadian players had participated in such camps before, this was the most demanding one yet.
Running, rock climbing, kickboxing, yoga, weight sessions, triathlons, in addition to on-ice drills, kept the Canadian women on the go from morning until night. But in the process, they pushed past their limits and helped teammates get past theirs.
When the 26 players reconvened in Calgary in August to begin full-time training, they already had a strong base of trust and fitness to build on.
Then came an ambitious 60-game schedule with over half those games against Alberta Midget Hockey League teams. The women rode the bus all over the province, competing for spots on the team and becoming battle-hardened.
“The season was tough,” Davidson said. “We were all over northern Alberta from a Sunday to a Wednesday night and I made them skate Thursday afternoon.”
“That was all done on my end with a focus to getting them to realize they can do it, whether they were tired or not. Because the year was so tough and so competitive on the ice for spots, that helped everybody think “I can’t slip here because if I slip, she’s going to take my spot” or “If I slip, that team is going to win the game.”
An area where Davidson felt the team could improve coming out of 2006 was in the mobility and skill of the defence, which could in turn improve Canada’s offence. When she named the 21-player Olympic team Dec. 21, blue-liners Carla MacLeod, Tessa Bonhomme, Meaghan Mikkelson and Catherine Ward fit that bill.
Among her finishing touches, Davidson decided in late January to take the team to Jasper for a week to give them calm before the Olympic storm. She feels now that was a key piece of the puzzle.
“That’s as close as you are going to get to tapering a whole team,” she said.
Not done yet, Davidson took the bold step of scheduling games against a B.C. midget boys team the night before the Opening Ceremonies and two days before the semifinal, to keep her team ready for their impending showdown versus the Americans.
Remarkably, those games were played in secret. The players referred to them by code word “aquarium” so people would think they’d been visiting the famed Vancouver Aquarium in Stanley Park.
“It was easy when we got to the Olympics, but that wasn’t by accident,” Davidson said. “Practices were like a formality. We played the two ‘aquarium’ games. We needed to do that to stay sharp.
“They knew it wasn’t too much to play those games there and they wanted that competition and that feeling of setting ourselves up for gold.”
After all the work they’d done, Canada went into the final against the Americans with the confidence they’d been missing at the previous year’s world championship.
“It didn’t matter whether it was one second in or one second left, we honestly thought we could win any game we were in,” Davidson said.
A 2-0 win over the U.S. gave Canada its third straight Olympic gold and perhaps the sweetest one yet. Those skilled defencemen blocked many shots for goaltender Shannon Szabados to help her earn the shutout.
Davidson says her plans would not have come together, if the players hadn’t bought heart and soul into them.
“I thought they did a great job, when we came out of the 2009 Worlds, of looking inside themselves,” she said. “I can’t honestly say I’ve ever had a whole team that has done that, or a whole group.
“The whole group looked inside themselves and said ‘what do I have to do for us to win?”’