Hayley Wickenheiser wishes she was playing in the Four Nations Cup this week, but says she accepts the decision by coaches to leave her off the Canadian women’s hockey team roster along with five other players.
Canada’s all-time scorer and captain for all major tournaments since 2007 was one of six players who didn’t make the trip to Lake Placid, N.Y., for the annual international women’s hockey tournament featuring Canada, the U.S., Sweden and Finland.
Canadian head coach Dan Church said the move was made to give the 35-year-old Wickenheiser and other veteran players a rest.
Assistant captain and three-time Olympian Caroline Ouellette and forward Marie-Philip Poulin, as well as defencemen Meaghan Mikkelson, Lauriane Rougeau and Laura Fortino were the others who remained in Calgary.
Poulin, who is recovering from an ankle injury, and Mikkelson were members of the team that won an Olympic gold medal in 2010.
Canada has 27 women based in Calgary trying out for the 2014 Olympic team expected to be named in late December. Three forwards and three defencemen will be released.
Wickenheiser has played in 14 Nations Cups during her career. Canada opened the tournament Tuesday against Finland and faces the host U.S. on Wednesday. The final is Saturday.
“You want to go, so it’s disappointing,” Wickenheiser said Tuesday. “They have their plan and their reasons for doing things, so you have to accept the decision I guess.
“It’s hard. You want to be there. But keep in mind the big picture and what we’re trying to accomplish in February. They have a plan with the team and what they want to do. You just have to trust that.”
Wickenheiser played through knee and back injuries at the world championship in April, but says health didn’t keep her off the 21-player roster for the Four Nations.
“I’m not injured. I’m 100 per cent,” she said.
The Americans are the defending world champions and winner of the last two Four Nations Cups. The U.S. defeated Canada 3-2 last April in Ottawa to win their four world title in five years.
Canada and the U.S. have already played two of six exhibition games scheduled for this winter with the Canadians prevailing 3-2 in Burlington, Vt., and 6-3 in Boisbriand, Que., last month. Wickenheiser scored twice in Boisbriand.
A recent CBC online report suggested Wickenheiser might not be Canada’s captain in Sochi. Wickenheiser was captain of the squad that won the Olympic gold medal in women’s hockey in 2010 in Vancouver.
Church has rotated the captain’s ‘C’ and assistants’ ‘A’s between players since the team centralized in Calgary in August.
“We rotate letters around prior to every Olympics during centralization,” Wickenheiser said. “The same thing happened in 2010. Whether I am (captain) or I’m not, I’m going to continue to do the same things that I’m doing and that’s not really my decision at the end of the day. That’s his decision.”
Wickenheiser wants to be captain of the Olympic team in Sochi, Russia.
“I would say yes. Obviously I’ve been captain for awhile,” she said. “I think I can do the job. I think I have the experience and the tools for what is necessary with this group, but again, it’s not my decision.”
Wickenheiser and the other five players who didn’t go to Lake Placid are training and skating in Calgary this week. She is also preparing to host 60 girls’ hockey teams Nov. 21-24 at the Wickenheiser Female World Hockey Festival in Calgary.
Teams from across Canada and northwestern United States as well as a team from Finland and the Mexican national women’s team will participate in the tournament and also attend off-ice seminars on topics such as nutrition and sleep habits.
Wickenheiser held the event in Burnaby, B.C., the last three years, but shifted it to Calgary because of declining sponsorship dollars there as well as an offer from Winsport to use the new facilities at Canada Olympic Park.
She said there were 20 teams on her waiting list for the festival.
“It is huge. I’m so excited,” Wickenheiser said. “I’m sure within the next few years I can see us getting to 100 teams. It’s logistics and ice time and things like that and we want to keep the quality high.”