Women make big sacrifices to play for Team Canada
MONTREAL - In women’s hockey, a sure sign the Olympics are looming is the word “centralization.”
Since August, the 27 players vying for a spot on the Canadian Olympic roster have been living in Calgary and training as a team leading up to the Games in Sochi, Russia.
The group includes forward Meghan Agosta-Marciano, the top scorer and most valuable player in 2010 at the Vancouver Olympics.
For Agosta-Marciano, the move west means being temporarily apart from her husband, who recently started a job as a video coach with the American Hockey League’s Hamilton Bulldogs.
For Tessa Bonhomme, who plays defence, it meant giving up her broadcasting and hosting job with Leafs-TV to pursue her Olympic goal.
“For the girls that don’t live in Calgary you’ve got to move your family or yourself across the country” said Hayley Wickenheiser, a veteran of four Olympic Games who recently graduated from the University of Calgary and didn’t have to relocate for the training.
“You give up your career. You give up a year of school or whatever you’re doing. It’s a big sacrifice,” she said.
“But at the same time, I look at it as a privilege to do this. I get up every day and I can say that I’m a professional hockey player and that I make my living playing hockey. And that’s not something you could do 20 years ago. So it’s come a long ways in that regard,” added Wickenheiser who has endorsements.
“You’re not making a living on carding or being paid to play the game, purely. Unless you have endorsements or sponsorships, you can’t make a living playing this game.”
The roster will be trimmed from 27 to 21 in December. The group is playing close to 40 games against midget-level boys’ teams, mainly in Alberta, and about 50 games in total to prepare for Sochi.
“We’re thankful we have those games,” Bonhomme said. “We don’t know what we would do (without) them.
“And I think, honestly, since 2002 that’s what has given us the edge over the Americans is the fact that we play these high, intense, physical games with these guys who are 6-foot-2 with extra-long reaches. So they make sure that we’re playing honest hockey. We’re not taking any shortcuts, we can’t with them. And the game is fast.”
A six-game series with the United States national women’s team is part of Team Canada’s preparation. The Canadians won the first two games, beating the Americans 3-2 in Burlington, Vt., earlier this month and 6-3 last Thursday in Boisbriand.
Wickenheiser scored two goals in the 6-3 victory. At 35, she’s the second-oldest player on the team after veteran Jayna Hefford and has been on the national team since 1993-94.
Wickenheiser has applied to go to medical school and says she hasn’t really made any decisions about whether she’ll retire or keep playing after Sochi.
“I’ll decide when the Games are over,” she said last week in Laval, where the players had a team dinner.
Many of their mothers — including Wickenheiser’s mom Marilyn — whose travels expenses were covered by a corporate sponsor surprised the players by showing up.
The gathering was on the eve of their game in Boisbriand against the U.S. Wickenheiser said she believes the two teams are pretty equally matched.
“And it comes down to who makes mistakes and turnovers in key areas,” she added.
“There’s no question they have a good transition and can capitalize. But I like the game that we play, too, and the size that we have and the speed that we can play with as well. I think what we have in our dressing room and within our team is equally capable of beating them on any given day.”
The American team heads into the Olympics as the world champions after winning the title in Ottawa last spring.
Canada and the U.S. have dominated the event at the world championships and the Olympics since it became an event in 1998. And that domination has been viewed as problematic.
“We cannot continue without improvement,” International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge said at the Vancouver Games.
Said Wickenheiser: “The (International Ice Hockey Federation) has put a lot of work into developing the game and pushing Sweden and Finland and Russia, in particular. We saw them in Sochi and they’ve really come a long ways.
“I think they’ve improved and they’re going to fight for a medal.”
Former New York Islander Alexei Yashin is the general manager of the Russian women’s team.
“He’s on the ice in full equipment practising with the Russian team,” Wickenheiser said. “That’s what the game needs, people like that to be involved.
“And usually when guys like that get involved, they love it and they stick around,” she added.
“When they’re doing that in more countries around the world, that’s really going to propel the game forward.”
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