TORONTO -- The best female hockey players in Canada will assemble in Calgary next September and train full-time for five months to prepare for the first-ever Olympic women's hockey tournament at the Winter Games in Nagano, Japan in February 1998.
The training program is the central element in Canadian Hockey's Plan for Nagano for the National Women's Team, the three-time World Champions who will defend that title at the Women's World Championship in Kitchener, Ontario from March 31 - April 6.
A selection camp for the World Championship team was held in St-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Quebec, last month and the 21-player roster will be trimmed by one -- the team is currently carrying three goalies -- during a pre-tournament camp in Barrie, Ontario from March 20 - 30.
The Olympic plan includes three evaluation camps in June, a 10-day tour in Finland in the Fall, participation in the second annual 3 Nations Cup against the USA and Finland, and a December tour of Canada featuring games against Team USA. The national team will train at the Royal Bank Canadian Hockey Centre, the home of all of Canada's national hockey teams, and play exhibition games at Father David Bauer Arena.
"Our women have consistently proven they're the best team in the world and the Nagano Plan will be implemented to help us stay on top and, hopefully, win the gold medal at the Winter Olympics," said Bob Nicholson, vice-president, hockey operations for Canadian Hockey.
The coaching staff for the Olympic team will be officially named in April, following the World Championship in Kitchener, Nicholson said. Shortly after that, a core group of about 12 players will be named to the Olympic team and invite to move to Calgary in September. The remaining eight spots on the team will be determined following regional evaluation camps in Alberta, Ontario and Quebec.
"The Spring camps provide an opportunity for players who may have Olympic potential to try for a spot on the team," said Glynis Peters, Manager of Female Programs for Canadian Hockey. "We think having regional camps, rather than one centralized camp, is the fairest way, particularly in terms of travel for the players involved."
Canada won the inaugural 3 Nations Cup in Ottawa last October, and Peters sees the second edition of the tournament, scheduled for Lake Placid, as an essential part of preparing for Nagano. As was the case last fall, Canada's competition at the tournament will be provided by the USA and Finland, ranked second and third in the world, respectively.
"If we're going to win Gold in Nagano, we're going to have to defeat the Americans and the Finns, so the Finland tour, the 3 Nations Cup and the Canadian tour against Team USA are crucial to our preparation for the Olympics," she said.
While training at their home base in Calgary, the National Women's Team will play exhibition games against select male teams, as well as some female teams augmented with a few male players.
"The Calgary camp will be broken down into six-week training blocks that will include on-ice sessions, strength training and one or two exhibition games a week," said Peters. "We'll play a variety of different teams, so we're not playing against clubs who play the same style all the time."
As federally carded athletes, the national team members currently receive between $300 to $810 a month depending on their carding status. Canadian Hockey will augment that with a stipend that will make their compensation comparable to the $15,000 - $ 20,000.
Those players with full-time jobs have been making plans already to arrange for leaves of absence to pursue their Olympic dream.