Nyköping, SWEDEN – Canada’s National Women’s Team heads into their final two games at the 2011 4 Nations Cup having cleared a major hurdle.
Canada is breaking in a young defence at the annual international tournament that also features the Finland, Sweden and the United States. Four of the seven defenders named to Canada’s roster are making their debuts with the national team.
The defence overcame its inexperience to help Canada defeat the United States 3-1 on Thursday.
The Canadians may have won Olympic Winter Games gold in 2010, but the U.S. have beaten them to win three straight IIHF World Women’s Championships.
After a day off Friday, the defending 4 Nations Cup champions were preparing to face Sweden in their final
preliminary round game Saturday.
A win means a likely rematch with the Americans in Sunday’s final.
“We still need to continue to improve our tactical game,” Canada’s head coach Dan Church said Friday. “There are definitely things there we can do and execute a little bit better and at a higher level, our forecheck and things like that.
“They’ve really been doing well in the areas we’ve asked them to, their ability to play fast on defence and battle. We have a great opportunity against Sweden tomorrow to continue that improvement and work on a few things and hopefully put us in a position to win the 4 Nations Cup on Sunday.”
Laura Fortino (Hamilton, Ont.), Stefanie McKeough (Carlsbad Springs, Ont.), Cassandra Poudrier (Lachenaie, Que.) and Lauriane Rougeau (Beaconsfield, Que.) are the newcomers on Canada’s blue line. They range in age from 18 to 21.
Courtney Birchard (Mississauga, Ont.) was in Canada’s line-up at last year’s 4 Nations Cup but is still just 22 years old. Only Jocelyne Larocque (Ste. Anne, Man.) and Bobbi-Jo Slusar (Swift Current, Sask.) have experience at the world championships. None played in the Winter Olympic Games.
“All of the defence that were brought here really took a step forward in terms of their game and responded to feedback that we gave them,” Church said.
The U.S. scored shorthanded Thursday for the lone goal Canada has given up in two games.
“The young, first-time players who were in the line-up really contributed, so it’s a good feeling for them getting their first experience playing against the U.S. national team in events as important as this,” Church said.
“Overall, it gave the veterans a lot of confidence in the younger players and the younger players gained a
lot of much-needed experience.”
Church plans to start Shannon Szabados (Edmonton, Alta.) in net Saturday and will then make a decision on his goalie for Sunday.
Sweden has twice beaten Canada in women’s hockey and most recently 6-4 at the 2011 IIHF 12 Nations Invitational Tournament held in Finland this August and September. The Canadians prevailed 4-1 over the Swedes in an exhibition game Monday in Vallentuna, a suburb outside of Stockholm.
Szabados made 15 saves in a 5-0 shutout of Finland to open the tournament Thursday. Charline Labonté (Boisbriand, Que.) made 34 saves against the U.S.
Canada has spread scoring throughout the line-up, with their eight goals coming from eight different
players, including one from Birchard.
Canada has won 12 gold and three silver medals in 4 Nations Cup and 3 Nations Cup tournaments since the first in 1996.