Growing up, it is every Canadian boys dream to one day play in the National Hockey League. Things are no different for the thousands of young Canadian girls out there, except instead of the NHL, they strive to be a part of Canada's National Women's Team. The registration numbers for female hockey in Canada have gone through the roof over the last five years and are continuing to climb each year. The young players are starting to grow up and be looked at for Team Canada.
This is no more evident than in Canada's roster for the 2002 4 Nations Cup in Kitchener, ON. Of the 24 players on the roster, four of them have limited playing experience with Canada's National Women's Team and four have never made the jump. That is until now.
In goal, Charline Labonte, who has played in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League and the Quebec Junior "A" League, is a solid puck stopper who has the ability to close the door at any given time. Labonte has played with both Canada's Under 22 team and the senior team and was Canada's third goalie for the 2002 Winter Olympics. She has great lateral movement and can often become a sixth forward as she likes to play the puck.
On defence, Thornhill, ON native Gillian Ferrari is the "veteran rookie" after playing in five games during the 2000-01 tour vs. Sweden. Ferrari is a 22 year-old defenceman who is very strong and likes to play a physical game. Her presence on the ice is a welcome addition to Canada's lineup. Ferrari is no stranger to Canada's women's hockey program as she played with Canada's Under 22 squad for the past four seasons and looks to be fitting into her role with the senior team quite nicely.
Helping Ferrari out on the point is St-Étienne-Lauzon, Quebec's Virginie Bilodeau. Bilodeau, like Ferrari, is familiar with Canada's Under 22 team after playing with the team in 1999-2000 and had not played with the senior team until Thursday's 4 Nations Cup game against Sweden, when she made her debut. Bilodeau, who replaced injured defenceman Carla MacLeod for the 4 Nations Cup, is a crafty rear guard who sees the ice well and isn't afraid to handle the puck.
Bilodeau's Montreal Wingstar (NWHL) defence partner Cathy Chartrand also made her National Women's Team debut at the 2002 4 Nations Cup. Chartrand, a product of Lac Nomiminque, PQ is an Under 22 veteran who has stepped into Canada's lineup without a hitch. She showed great poise as she played in her first National Women's Team game during the tournament opener vs. USA. Chartrand would go on to record her first ever National Women's Team point (an assist) during Thursday's game vs. Sweden. All three defencemen will be trying to fill the void left by Olympians Geraldine Heaney and Isabelle Chartrand. Heaney retired from international play after the 2002 games and Chartrand has taken the year off from Team Canada.
Up front, both Gillian Apps (Unionville, ON) and Gina Kingsbury (Rouyn-Noranda, PQ) were centralized with Canada's 2002 Olympic team before being released back to their club teams. Apps is a power forward who can drive to the net with speed and is an asset in front of the opposing goal. Attending Dartmouth College (ECAC) with fellow teammates Cherie Piper (Scarborough, ON) and Meagan Walton (Calgary, AB), Apps' game has improved, despite breaking her ankle in a 2001-02 playoff game with her club team, the Beatrice Aeros (NWHL). She is an impact player who can turn a game around in a hurry.
Kingsbury, a key part of St. Lawrence's (ECAC) hockey team, played for Canada at the 2001 Women's World Hockey Championship (2g, 2a) and is familiar with playing with Team Canada. She has played in 16 games with Canada's Under 22 team and 16 with the senior team. A player with strong hockey sense and a great shot, Kingsbury is good at finding the open ice.
Walton, who has been a standout with every team she has ever played on, including a career year with Dartmouth last season scoring a point per game, is a gifted forward who has great abilities with the puck. Always dangerous in the offensive zone, Walton is also a great two-way player.
Finally, Trenton, Ontario's Lara Perks is a rising star with Team Canada. She has played with the Under 22 team before and was thrilled to be a part of Canada's 2002 4 Nations Cup team. Perks' played in her first National Women's Team game during the tournament's opener vs. USA and scored a nice goal with a hard wrist shot from the circle. The Beatrice Aero possesses a great shot and is good at making room for other players on the ice.
The 16 Olympians that are currently on Team Canada still prove to be great role models for these young stars, helping them in any way possible. Whether it has to do with questions on the ice or questions in life, they are always there.
With Canada's female hockey program growing as rapidly as it is right now, it won't be long before the Apps', Ferrari's and Labonte's turn into role models for the new wave of National Women's Team players.