NATIONAL TEAMS DRAW CULTURE FROM VISITS TO ST. JOHN’S
As one of Canada’s top women’s hockey players, Tessa Bonhomme has taken her fair share of shots over the years. However, none compares to the one she took last fall in St. John’s, N.L.
This shot included Screech and a codfish, two things not necessarily associated with hockey, but certainly familiar traditional items in Newfoundland and Labrador. Bonhomme and her National Women’s Team teammates were at Mile One Centre in St. John’s to participate in the 2010 4 Nations Cup, which brought together the top four women’s teams in the world – Canada, Finland, Sweden and the United States.
As part of their week in the provincial capital, the team took in some of the sights and sounds of St. John’s. It was after one sight-seeing mission that the girls were treated to a special dinner organized by local hosts and Hockey Canada. The gathering at Portobello’s Restaurant was highlighted by an old Newfoundland tradition – a Screech-In.
The staff, coaches and players were each given a shot of Newfoundland Screech, forced to kiss a cod on the lips and repeat lines like ‘Long may your big jib draw’ – thereby becoming honourary Newfoundlanders.
“Everybody did it; everybody embraced the tradition,” Bonhomme said. “Some of us still talk about it today. It was fun to see.
“I remember trying to understand what the guy dressed up like a fisherman was trying to say. One of the girls beside me said, ‘Don’t even bother. He’ll explain it later.’ We had to repeat some stuff. I was making up half the words.
“For me to kiss the cod was a huge deal. I actually did it twice; once for real and the second time for a picture.”
With the 2010-11 season the first in a four-year cycle that will culminate in the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, Russia, getting acquainted with teammates was a priority in St. John’s. Bonhomme, who wrote a blog for Hockey Canada while at the tournament, says the ceremony was a big part of the team’s bonding process.
“It’s really gross. It’s cold and jelly,” Bonhomme said of the cod. “I don’t even like fish to begin with. I gagged a little bit, but I went back for seconds. Some girls were afraid of the fish, but it was a good night to be able to laugh at each other and laugh at ourselves.
“It’s a struggle with coaches and captains to find a way to have players bond. You’ve got players who are competing against each other year in and year out. You’ve got create an experience that will help bond them.”
Nothing like a shot of Screech to bring a team together.
Bonding is a priority for Canada’s National Junior Team, too. Hockey Canada held the annual summer developmental camp at Mile One last August, where 44 hopefuls gathered for a week of intense training camp action, the first step towards the 2011 IIHF World Junior Championship in Buffalo, N.Y.
Brayden Schenn was a key member of Team Canada in Buffalo, taking home MVP and Top Forward honours while leading the tournament in scoring. For him, the time in St. John’s was well spent getting to know the other players.
“We always do the hotel-rink thing,” Schenn said. “And we did that there. But we do other things.
“Hockey Canada always does a good job with team building. It’s really important in a short-term competition. Doing some team building, even though it was the summer camp, it was good to get out there and see some things and get to know each other.”
The things Schenn and his teammates saw are things they remember still today.
“We saw three whales, beluga whales I think,” he recalled, savouring the memory of an ocean excursion that was a first for many, particularly someone like Schenn, raised on the prairies of Saskatchewan. “They took us on a boat, and we had supper on the ocean.”
Schenn laughed at some of the players who got seasick, claiming his own sea legs “were pretty good.” Still, he claimed the day took some time to recover from.
In a short tournament like the World Juniors, Schenn says knowing your teammates is paramount.
“You want to get to know them as quickly as possible. You gotta know who you’re going to battle with every day.”
Bonhomme and Schenn both agree on one thing: the support they received from the hockey fans at Mile One, and all around St. John’s, was second to none.
“Even though it was just a summer camp,” Schenn noted, “there were a lot of fans coming out to support us.
“It’s good to get that support whatever city you’re in.”