The oldest player on the Canadian women’s hockey team is ready for the grind of chasing her fourth Olympic gold medal.
Jayna Hefford was one of 27 players invited Thursday by Hockey Canada to come to Calgary on Aug. 6 and train full time for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.
It will be the fifth time the 35-year-old forward from Kingston, Ont., moves west to become an Olympian.
She’s one of the 24 out-of-province players who will leave behind school, jobs, club teams, family and friends for seven months to pursue a spot on Canada’s Olympic women’s hockey team.
“It’s always tough to move out there and leave behind your normal life, but at the same time, it’s one of the most exciting years and it really is a short time when you get there,” Hefford says.
“It’s that seven months and it’s intense. You get to do so many cool things.”
Head coach Dan Church of Toronto and assistant coach Lisa Haley of Westville, N.S., will relocate to Calgary. Assistant coach Danielle Goyette of St. Nazaire, Que., coaches the University of Calgary women’s team.
The roster includes 22 players who took the silver medal at the world championships in Ottawa earlier this month, plus another five. Thirteen played for the Canadian team that won Olympic gold in Vancouver in 2010.
Edmonton’s Shannon Szabados, Charline Labonte of Boisbriand, Que., and Genevieve Lacasse of Kingston, Ont., are the three goalies.
The defenders invited are Jocelyne Larocque of Ste. Anne, Man., Brigette Lacquette of Waterhen, Man., Lauriane Rougeau of Beaconsfield, Que., Laura Fortino of Hamilton, Courtney Birchard of Mississauga, Ont., Meaghan Mikkelson of St. Alberta, Alta., Montreal’s Catherine Ward, Tessa Bonhomme of Sudbury, Ont., and Tara Watchorn of Newcastle, Ont.
Hefford, Hayley Wickenheiser of Shaunavon, Sask., and Montreal’s Caroline Ouellette are the most veterans forwards among the 15 invited.
Marie-Philip Poulin of Beauceville, Que., scored both of Canada’s goals in a 2-0 win over the U.S. in the 2010 final. Meghan Agosta-Marciano of Ruthven, Ont., was Canada’s leading scorer and tournament MVP in Vancouver.
Rebecca Johnston of Sudbury, Ont., Jennifer Wakefield of Pickering, Ont., Gillian Apps of Unionville, Ont., Melodie Daoust of Valleyfield, Que., Bailey Bram of Ste. Anne, Brianne Jenner of Oakville, Ont., Winnipeg’s Jenelle Kohanchuk, Toronto’s Natalie Spooner, Haley Irwin of Thunder Bay, Ont., and Vicki Bendus of Wasaga Beach, Ont., round out the forwards.
Church says he’ll probably name his Olympic team in late December.
“My job is to have a vision of where we want to be come Olympic time,” Church said. “A good coach also has to be flexible enough to be able to coach to the strengths of the players and be able to adapt to that.
“I think we need to have certain elements and add what the players bring. It’s all going to fit into the type of team we have come next February which I hope is the best Canadian team we’ve ever been able to ice.”
He intended to invite 28 players, but Sarah Vaillancourt suddenly retired last week. Church decided not to add another forward to replace her.
Hefford and Wickenheiser, 34, have played for Canada in every Winter Olympics since women’s hockey made its debut in 1998. Canada won gold in 2002, 2006 and 2010 after taking silver in 1998.
The women battling for jobs on the 2014 team will train and skate together every day. They’ll play about 30 games against midget triple-A boys’ teams in Alberta.
Canada will also play half a dozen exhibition games against the U.S. women. A Dec. 20 date in Grand Forks, N.D., has already been announced. Canada and the U.S. will also participate in the Four Nations Cup in Lake Placid, N.Y., in November.
The invited players will be under the constant scrutiny of Church, as he tries to find the players who can win another gold medal.
“Consistency is a big part of it, being able to fulfil a role within the team and being able to adapt to different roles, that consistent effort and execution,” he listed as his criteria. “Be reliable in tough situations when it matter most.”
Hefford knows from previous experience how stressful and exhausting the months are heading into the Games, yet she loves it.
The winter the Canadian women are centralized in Calgary is the closest they come in their hockey careers to living the life of an NHL player.
“It’s our chance to be a professional athlete,” she says. “We have all the resources we need right there every single day.
“We get treated like professionals, we have the responsibility of professionals. It’s exciting. You don’t always get the chance to feel that way.”
Church had a 23-player roster for the world championship, but the International Olympic Committee hasn’t yet increased the size of the women’s hockey rosters from 21 to 23 for Sochi.
International Ice Hockey Federation Rene Fasel did not know at the women’s world championship whether the IOC would allow for two more skaters per country in Sochi.
“We’re operating under the assumption it may be a 23-player roster, which is why we arrived at the number we did,” Church said.
“We want to have enough players and enough depth that would give us more than just one option in terms of selection.”
The Canadian women will be based at Winsport, also known as Canada Olympic Park, on the west side of Calgary. Hockey Canada’s new headquarters is situated alongside an Olympic-sized arena.
The women will have access to dryland training facilities and medical services on-site.
Training starts well before August. The women arrive in Calgary on May 20 for physical testing and depart later that week for a boot camp in British Columbia.