Her arms wrap around the sparkling cup. She holds it close, tears streaming down her face as her teammates chat, laugh and bustle around the dressing room in exhilarated excitement.She sits back in her stall, hugging the trophy hard, watching her friends celebrate, and taking in that gold medal moment for as long as she possibly can. She soaks it all up, through an ear-to-ear smile and salty tears.
“I was sitting there in the corner, and I was holding that trophy so tight, and I was just bawling,” Canadian captain Erin Ambrose (Keswick, Ont./Toronto, PWHL) said of making every second last following the red and white’s win at the 2012 IIHF Ice Hockey U18 Women’s World Championship in Zlin, Czech Republic, in January.
“The coaches said their speeches, and I was in my little corner (crying), and somebody, I think (Cayley) Mercer, looked over and was like, ‘Ambrose, what are you doing?’ And I was like, ‘I’m just so happy!’ ”
Those tears of joy, and the fleeting but unforgettable moments following a championship win, are exactly “why I play hockey,” Ambrose said. “That feeling, that moment, it was just like, ‘Wow.’ ”
Although Ambrose was already a world champion before travelling to Prerov and Zlin, Czech Republic, having won Canada’s first-ever under-18 women’s title two years ago in Chicago, Ill., her third season on the team and second gold medal at worlds was special in its own way.
This time, she proudly skated over wearing the ‘C’ on her jersey to accept that golden trophy, and hoist it high above her head on behalf of her team, and in front of a chilly but jam-packed PSG Arena full of cheering Canadian family and friends.
“That was something that I thought about all week, was just that moment,” Ambrose said. “I just couldn’t wait to lift it up, and for the team to skate towards me.”
It was the moment Ambrose had longed for, and one she and the rest of Canada’s National Women’s Team were dedicated and determined to create for themselves after settling for silver to the United States at the 2011 IIHF World Women’s Under-18 Championship in Stockholm, Sweden.
Before heading to the rink on gold medal game day, Ambrose remembers head coach Pierre Alain (Mirabel, Que./St-Jérôme, Collégial AA) asking the returning players what being on the wrong side of the blue line felt like last year.
“I remember Merc said it had been one of the worst feeling she’d ever had, standing across from the U.S. and hearing them sing the national anthem,” Ambrose recalls of forward Mercer (Exeter, Ont./Bluewater, PWHL).
“I said something along the lines of, ‘If we go out and play the game for each other, then there’s no way that we’re going to lose,” Ambrose said. “I remember saying one of my favourite quotes, and that’s, ‘When your legs give out, skate with your heart.’ .”
That is exactly what Canada’s National Women’s Under-18 Team did at this year’s world championship, romping Switzerland 13-1, blanking Germany 6-0 and defeating the host country 13-1 in preliminary action, before shutting out Sweden 7-0 in semifinals.
Then there was gold medal game day, and that polished trophy just waiting for the world champions to take it into their possession.
Ambrose went about her usual pre-game routines, from getting stretched out by strength and conditioning coach Adrian Wellman (Mississauga, Ont.) and receiving treatment from therapist Amy Rogerson (Lac Brome, Que./Stanstead College, NAPHA), to feeding superstitions such as tea at breakfast, making time for self-reflection and taping up her stick.
As players and staff prepared for that final game, the wave of positivity they seemed to be swimming in throughout the tournament seemed to wash over everyone. “We had all said there was just a different feel this year,” Ambrose said. “We were all so focused yet so energetic. It was contagious.”
And that wave started coming at the Americans as soon as the puck dropped Saturday, April 7 in Zlin. The Canadians came out strong on their skates, and midway through the first, blueliner Alexis Crossley (Cole Harbour, N.S./Shattuck-St. Mary’s, U.S. Prep) rushed the puck into the U.S. zone, took a shot, picked up her own rebound and opened the scoring. The early momentum forced the United States into the penalty box, and Sarah Lefort (Ormstown, Que./Stanstead College, NAPHA) was able to score from down low on a power-play to make it 2-0 at 14:03 in the first.
“If we continue to play our game, we’re in a really good position,” Ambrose remembers thinking.
Canada maintained its lead throughout the second, and before heading into the third coach Alain reminded his players of the team motto, Be The Wave. “He had said, it’s time to bring the tsunami.”
“This is our last 20 minutes,” Ambrose recalls discussing in the dressing room. “This is really what we’ve worked for, this is the reason why we’re here.”
When another defenceman, alternate captain Cydney Roesler (Stittsville, Ont./Ottawa, PWHL) sealed the deal in a power-play in the last five minutes of the third for the 3-0 final, Ambrose and her teammates knew that the Canadian tsunami had drowned the Americans.
“Let’s give it everything that we’ve got!” Ambrose said to her teammates as she walked up and down the bench.
The clock ticked down on the final seconds, the buzzer sounded and Ambrose jumped the bench and threw her gloves up in the air in celebration before hugging teammates and piling on top of stand-out netminder Emerance Maschmeyer (Bruderheim Alta./Lloydminster, Alta.). She finally got her hands on that glistening trophy, and this time it was O Canada that played while both teams stood on the blue lines.
“I wasn’t letting go of that thing,” Ambrose said. “And I don’t want that to be the last time that I get to … hoist that cup … That’s why I play hockey.”