With the anticipation building on their flight from Calgary, members of Canada’s National Women’s Team got their first glimpse of a 2010 Olympic venue from the air on Sunday night.
Their flight path took the team over Cypress Mountain, just east of Vancouver, where snowboard and freestyle ski events for the Games will be held.
“I was trying not to think too much,” said defenceman Tessa Bonhomme of Sudbury, Ont. “Mostly just enjoying a movie and enjoying everybody's company and trying not to stress out and let the emotions get too riled up.
“We flew over one the ski hills. We got to see that and everybody got excited.”
Canada's departure from Calgary was delayed over an hour, and the excitement among those about to participate in their first Olympic Games made the journey seem longer.
“I know once we landed my heart kind of jumped a little bit,” added Bonhomme.
Upon arrival in Vancouver, the team of 21 players that will attempt to defend Canada's gold medal in women's hockey was greeted by a group of young girls wearing jerseys.
They have been together in Calgary since Aug. 2 and have played 55 games since then against Alberta midget boys' teams and international women's squads.
Captain Hayley Wickenheiser of Shaunavon, Sask., defenceman Becky Kellar of Hagersville, Ont., Winnipeg forward Jennifer Botterill and forward Jayna Hefford of Kingston, Ont., will be part of the Canadian team for their fourth Games.
Seven players on the roster will make their Olympic debut Saturday when Canada opens against Slovakia: Bonhomme, forward Marie-Philip Poulin of Beauceville, Que., Edmonton goaltender Shannon Szabados, defenceman Meaghan Mikkelson of St. Albert, Alta., Montreal defenceman Catherine Ward, forward Haley Irwin of Thunder Bay, Ont., and forward Rebecca Johnston of Sudbury, Ont.
“It's crazy,” said Poulin, the youngest player on the team at just 18 years of age. “I have no words to describe it. It's amazing to be here and live my dream.”
Canada is in a pool with the Slovaks, the Swiss and Sweden, the silver medallist from 2006. The U.S., Finland, China and Russia are in the other pool. The top two teams in each advance to the semifinals with the top seed crossing over to face the runner-up from the other pool.
The gold medal game is Feb. 25 at Canada Hockey Place and barring a major upset, Canada and the U.S. are expected to square off in the final. Canada has won two straight Olympic titles, but the U.S. took gold in 1998, when women's hockey made its debut at the Games.
The Canadian team spent last week sequestered in Jasper, Alta., because head coach Melody Davidson felt her players needed space before entering the fishbowl environment of the Games.
“The year has been a mental challenge in terms of the competition level we played all year,” she explained. “The girls have a lot of pride in those games, so they didn't take any days off.
“The last four or five days allowed them to remember how much they like each other and remember how much they love the game.”
Davidson, who coached Canada to gold in 2006, observed an interesting mix of reactions on the flight to Calgary.
“The young ones, the first-timers, they're not sure whether they should be excited or not and are trying to be cool,” she said. “The veterans are trying to be cool because they've been here before, but when they all got together there was great energy and lots of smiles.”
Wickenheiser will compete in her fifth Olympic Games as she was also a member of Canada's softball team at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, Australia. This will be the veteran's first Olympics at home.
“You don't pack as much because you know if you forget something you can always hit Robson Street,” she said, referring to Vancouver's hip shopping district.