The past, present and future of Canadian women’s hockey collided here in the ambient light of Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame bright and early on Monday morning. The occasion was the official unveiling of Canada’s 2014 women’s Olympic hockey team, and one by one, the players who survived the eight months of preparation were introduced and took their places in front of an oversized Canadian flag for a photo op.
There, in the top row, standing two places down from new coach Kevin Dineen, was Hayley Wickenheiser, nominated for her sixth Olympic team, once in the summer for softball, five in winter for hockey. In the middle row were two other mainstays – Jayna Hefford and Caroline Ouellette – who, with Wickenheiser, were the only holdovers from 2002, when Canada won the first of three consecutive gold medals in women’s Olympic hockey.
And there, standing right between Hefford and Ouellette, with a big smile on her face, was Mélodie Daoust who, at 21, became the youngest player to crack the 2014 line-up.
Daoust was on the bubble right up until the end and, as a result, says she didn’t “eat much and or sleep well these last two days, because I didn’t know what was going to happen. I just knew I gave everything I could and hoped that it would go my way. And it did, and I’m really happy about it.
“This is the start for me. I will try to write my own history, but at the same time, those girls are great role models for me. I just want to do the same thing as them because they had such a great impact on us and all of Canada.”
Canada needed to reduce the roster by three to get down to the 21-player limit. On Sunday, defenceman Courtney Birchard and forwards Bailey Bram and Vicki Bendus received the bad news; they weren’t Sochi-bound. Last month, the team made its first cuts from the 27-player squad that was originally centralized in Calgary back in August by dropping veteran Tessa Bonhomme and younger players Brigette Lacquette and Jenelle Kohanchuk.
Even Ouellette, who has been at this for more than a decade, said she took nothing for granted this time around.
“We started with 27 fantastic players and every one of them could be here right now and give us a chance to win,” she said. “It’s still great every time you’re named to the team. I feel very fortunate and privileged to be here.”
Ouellette said she was particularly happy about Daoust’s inclusion, noting: “She had been told all year that it would be really hard to make the team and so she stayed every day after practice to work on her skating and her skills. She’s just a fantastic young woman. She makes everybody laugh, the girls love her. And she’s so skilled, so talented. She has amazing vision. In four years, she’s going to be one of the best. I agree she deserves to be here right now and it’s going to be incredible to see her continue to grow and develop.”
Altogether, there were 12 holdovers from the team that won gold in Vancouver in 2010, and six from the 2006 championship team in Turin. It means there will be nine first-time Olympians on the 2014 team as Canada goes with a mix of youth and experience, speed and skill.
“I think we have a good mix of players who’ve been there a lot, players who have one under their belt, and then the young players,” said Wickenheiser. “With the young players, that’s sometimes an advantage to not know anything and not have any expectations … It’ll be important to remind everybody that they are the Olympic Games, but at the end of the day, you’re playing just another game – big games but just another game – and to just stay within yourself that way.”
According to assistant coach Danielle Goyette, making the final roster decisions was difficult on a number of levels.
“For me, this is the worst part of the coaching job because you’re crashing their dreams,” said Goyette. “These are players we’ve been working with for a long time and you get attached to your players. You know them personally. Let me tell you, not one player that that we released was an easy choice. As coaches, Sunday for us was an emotional day. You’re happy and you’re sad. You don’t sleep well.”
For Dineen, who replaced Dan Church as the team’s head coach last week, it was challenging to oversee cuts because he’d only been on the ice with the players for a short time. Since joining the team, he’s watched hours and hours of video and received input from the assistant coaches and the team’s general manager, Melody Davidson.
“I’m not going to sugar-coat that – it was extremely hard to narrow it down because it was a really strong group and you’re trying to find the right balance,” said Dineen. “You might be giving up some skill to get character, or giving up character to get skill. And that’s literally how it ended up.
“It’s no different from how I worked in the AHL or the NHL. I believe you sit there and throw a lot of things around and then you have to come to a consensus. At the end of it, if there’s no consensus, then I’m going to get the final say, and that’s a little bit how it played out. Fair? Unfair? I think I did enough homework that I was able to comfortably make a decision about what the vision is for our team.”
Shannon Szabados, Edmonton; Genevieve Lacasse, Kingston, Ont., Charline Labonte, Boisbriand, Que.
Jocelyne Larocque, Ste. Anne, Man.; Lauriane Rougeau, Beaconsfield, Que.; Laura Fortino, Hamilton, Ont.; Meaghan Mikkelson, St. Albert, Alta.; Catherine Ward, Montreal; Tara Watchorn, Newcastle, Ont.
Meghan Agosta-Marciano, Ruthven, Ont.; Rebecca Johnston, Sudbury, Ont.; Jennifer Wakefield, Pickering, Ont.; Gillian Apps, Unionville, Ont.; Caroline Ouellette, Montreal, Que.; Melodie Daoust, Valleyfield, Que.; Jayna Hefford, Kingston, Ont.; Brianne Jenner, Oakville, Ont.; Haley Irwin, Thunder Bay, Ont.; Hayley Wickenheiser, Shaunavon, Sask.; Natalie Spooner, Toronto; Marie-Philip Poulin, Beauceville, Que.
Kevin Dineen, Toronto; Assistant coaches: Danielle Goyette, St. Nazaire, Que., Lisa Haley, Westville, N.S.
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