Monday, August 24, 2009

Canadian National Women's Hockey Team prepares for 2010 Olympic Winter Games

Five – that’s how many tough decisions Mel Davidson will have to make before the end of December.

As the National Women’s Hockey Team gathers in Calgary for a centralized camp to precede the 2010 Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver, the competition for spots is even stronger this time around.

“We were young in 2006,” admits Davidson. “The spotlight was on our older players because they were veterans and such forces on our team that I think our young players flew under the radar. Nobody paid a lot of attention to them. Now those young players are in the prime of their career – and they’re still young.”

Veteran Jayna Hefford admits those younger players will be pushing the veterans to earn their spots.
“The young players are so good now, and they’ve had so much experience. We get players in their first year on the senior team and they’ve already played internationally for Team Canada. It doesn’t take them long to adjust.”

Even Hayley Wickenheiser isn’t resting on her experience. “As a veteran player, if you don’t do all the right things in the off-season, someone is going to take your place. You have to find ways to get better and improve. What we have is great internal competition in Canada.”

Given the strength of the national team program, having a centralized camp does have its advantages. This year, there are 30 games scheduled against the 18 boys’ teams from the Alberta Midget Hockey League between September and the end of January. The women’s team has had a partnership with Midget AAA since 2000, but this is the first time the games will officially count in the standings for the AMHL.

“It will up the competition level for us,” says Davidson.

Wickenheiser adds that it’s always tough to find competition that matches the national team. “The size of the guys in Midget AAA seems to fit the size and speed of play. For us, puck moving and game-thinking skills, we’re generally ahead in that area, but they give us good games because they can physically match us. They don’t want to lose too much to girls. It makes for a lot of fun games. They’re intense. They don’t back down once they figure out the line about hitting. We go out there every game to win.”

One might expect that this Olympic team’s identity will be built around speed and skill, but Davidson says that it will actually evolve as the camp progresses. The team itself will determine what its identity is, but it will certainly be hard working, passionate, and skilled.

The final roster will be announced some time in December. In the meantime, Davidson has developed a check list to determine who will make the cut.

“Performance on demand and consistency; the ability that they can play any time, any place…tired, fresh, and they can perform at the same level and then elevate their game when they need it, in terms of down a goal, up a goal – when you need an energy switch.”

With a strong mix of fresh faces and veterans – all with international experience – there is no doubt choosing who gets the call will be a difficult task.

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