Nyköping, SWEDEN – Canada’s National Women’s Team is preparing to work overtime if necessary at the 2011 4Nations Cup.
Canada opens defence of its title Wednesday against Finland in Nyköping, Sweden Canada then faces world champion the United States on Thursday before concluding the preliminary round Saturday versus host Sweden. The medal games are Sunday.
If it's possible, the Canada-U.S. rivalry in women's hockey has become even more heated since Canada beat the U.S. 2-0 to win gold at the 2010 Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver, B.C.
In seven meetings since the Olympics, four games have either gone to overtime or a shootout. Two of those were tournament finals.
Canada edged the U.S. 3-2 in overtime to win last year's 4 Nations Cup in St. John's, N.L. The Americans had beaten the hosts 3-2 in a shootout in the preliminary round there.
The U.S. downed Canada 3-2 in overtime to win a third straight world championship in April. In the most recent game between the two countries in September, Canada got by the Americans 4-3 in a shootout in an exhibition game.
So while Canada is favoured over Finland and Sweden at the 4 Nations Cup, games against the U.S. are often a coin toss.
"I won't object to winning games in regulation," Canadian head coach Dan Church joked from Sweden.
"I would expect the game to be close," he continued. "They always are. It's always a battle and always a war. I won't be surprised if it goes to overtime or a shootout. Hopefully, we'll be able to get it done in 60 minutes."
Canada is breaking in a young defensive unit at this tournament. Of the seven defencemen named to this roster, none were on Canada's victorious Olympic team. Only two defenders played in this year's world championship.
Becky Kellar (Hagersville, Ont.), Carla MacLeod (Calgary, Alta.) and Colleen Sostorics (Kennedy, Sask.) retired after Vancouver 2010, so Hockey Canada needed to develop a larger pool of talented defenders to draw on for the 2014 Olympic Winter Games in Sochi, Russia.
So while Olympians Tessa Bonhomme (Sudbury, Ont.), Meaghan Mikkelson (St. Albert, Alta.) and Catherine Ward (Montreal, Que.) will not play in this year’s 4 Nations Cup, they remain in Hockey Canada's pool of players under consideration for this season’s world championship, taking place next April in Burlington, Vt.
Jocelyne Larocque (Ste. Anne, Man.) and Bobbi Jo Slusar (Swift Current, Sask.) played for Canada at the most recent world championship in Switzerland. Courtney Birchard (Mississauga, Ont.) was in Canada's lineup at the 2010 4 Nations Cup.
Laura Fortino (Hamilton, Ont.), Stefanie McKeough (Carlsbad Springs, Ont.), Cassandra Poudrier (Lachenaie, Que.) and Lauriane Rougeau (Beaconsfield, Que.) make their National Women’s Team debuts at the 2011 4 Nations Cup. They range in age from 19 to 21. Birchard is 22.
The inexperienced defencemen will be tested by the ferocious attack of the U.S. on Thursday, and possibly again in Sunday's final.
“It can only be good for us in terms of their development for the future, being ready to play in those situations and learning to play to win as opposed to playing not to lose," Church said. "That's the difference between teams that are successful in overtime and those that aren't.
"That's why we brought these players here, to test them and advance their development. Quite frankly, I think they're going to do fine.”
Up front, Canada will be led by veterans, including Meghan Agosta (Ruthven, Ont.), Gillian Apps (Unionville, Ont.), Jayna Hefford (Kingston, Ont.), Caroline Ouellette (Montreal, Que.) and Hayley Wickenheiser (Shaunavon, Sask.).
Marie-Philip Poulin (Beauceville, Que.), who scored both of Canada's goals in the Olympic gold medal final, did not make the trip because of what Church calls an upper-body injury she suffered playing for Boston University. Ouellette replaced the 20-year-old forward in the lineup.
Charline Labonte (Boisbriand, Que.) and Shannon Szabados (Edmonton, Alta.) are expected to split goaltending duties, although Church hasn't ruled out giving Christina Kessler (Mississauga, Ont.) some ice time.
Church, who also coaches York University's women's team in the Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS) league, will be behind Canada's bench for a second time this year. He coached Canada to a 4-2 record at the 2011 IIHF 12 Nations Invitational Tournament, held in Finland this past August and September.
Hockey Canada will name Canada's coach for the world championship at a later date and Church is a
candidate to fill that job again.
Canada has won 12 gold and three silver medals at 4 Nations and 3 Nations tournaments since the first in 1996.
The Canadians defeated Sweden 4-1 in an exhibition game Monday in the Stockholm suburb of Vallentuna, and were en route Tuesday to the coastal city of Nyköping.
The U.S. is ranked No. 1 by the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF), ahead of Canada at No. 2. Finland is No. 3 and Sweden is ranked fourth. The Americans named forward Meghan Duggan their captain Tuesday.