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Canada Shoulders The Pressure of Trying to Reclaim Women's World Hockey Title

April 2, 2012

OTTAWA, Ont. – Canada’s National Women’s Team will attempt to reclaim a world title with two mottos in mind.

One is "pressure is a privilege" and the other is "skill and sandpaper."

The former is borrowed from tennis player Billie Jean King. The latter is the style head coach Dan Church (North York, Ont./York University, CIS) says Canada must play to win the world championship, which starts Saturday in Burlington, Vt.

"It's kind of like a master carpenter," Church explained Sunday from Ottawa. "It's a blue collar job, but to build a beautiful house, there's a lot of skill involved, as well as hard work."

The King slogan relates to the high bar set for the Canadian women's hockey team.

Winning the first eight of the 13 women's world championships created a high standard for female hockey players in Canada. Losing the last three world finals in a row to the U.S. proves gold is not a given.

Whether expectations of the Canadian team are fair or not, veteran forward Hayley Wickenheiser (Shaunavon, Sask./University of Calgary, CIS) says the team needs to embrace the pressure.

"I've been on the other side of the fence where I've played softball and the expectations weren't there," Wickenheiser said. "I'd much rather have this opportunity, where you're expected to win and people want to see that of this team.

"It's something that doesn't get put on everybody or every team and it is a privilege. If nobody thought you could win, they wouldn't expect it."

Church named his 23-player world championship roster Sunday to conclude a six-day selection camp in Ottawa. Five players, including three-time Olympic gold medallist Cherie Piper (Scarborough, Ont./Brampton, CWHL), were released.

"Cherie is an excellent player, a very skilled player but the players ahead of her just outcompeted her slightly," Church said.

"It was the smallest of margins. It's difficult to let a veteran player like that go, who has had an impact in the past. The other players were just slightly better over selection camp."

The Canadian team headed to Vermont on Sunday to begin preparations as a team. They'll face Sweden in a warm-up game Thursday in Jay Peak.

Canada opens the tournament Saturday against host U.S. at Gutterson Fieldhouse at the University of Vermont.

"Everybody is well aware of the fact we haven't won the worlds since 2007," Church said. "My job as a coach is to point us in the right direction in terms of our physical and mental preparation, so we can play our best when our best is needed and that should be regardless of the situation or pressure."

Defenders Courtney Birchard (Mississauga, Ont./Brampton, CWHL), Laura Fortino (Hamilton, Ont./Cornell University, CIS) and Lauriane Rougeau (Beaconsfield, Que./Cornell University, CIS) will make their world championship debuts.

Fortino scored the lone goal for Canada in a 1-0 exhibition win over the U.S. on Saturday in Ottawa.

Forwards Vicki Bendus (Wasaga Beach, Ont./Brampton, CWHL), Bailey Bram (Ste. Anne, Man./Mercyhurst University, CHA) and Brianne Jenner (Oakville, Ont./Cornell University, ECAC) will also play in a world championship for the first time in their careers.

The roster includes 13 players from the 2010 Olympic Winter Games team that defeated the Americans 2-0 for gold in Vancouver, B.C. Wickenheiser will appear in her 11th career world championship.

Other forwards from the Olympic squad include forwards Meghan Agosta Ruthven, Ont./Montreal, CWHL), Gillian Apps (Unionville, Ont./Brampton, CWHL), Jayna Hefford (Kingston, Ont./Brampton, CWHL), Haley Irwin (Thunder Bay, Ont./University of Minnesota Duluth, ECAC), Rebecca Johnston (Sudbury, Ont./Cornell University, ECAC), , Caroline Ouellette (Montreal, Que./Montreal, CWHL) and Marie-Philip Poulin (Beauceville, Que./Boston University, HE).

Olympians Tessa Bonhomme (Sudbury, Ont./Toronto, CWHL), Meaghan Mikkelson St. Albert, Alta./Alberta, CWHL) and Catherine Ward (Montreal, Que./Montreal, CWHL) have the experience to counterbalance youth on the blue-line.

Shannon Szabados (Edmonton, Alta./Northern Alberta Institute of Technology, NAIT), who posted a 24-save shutout Saturday, and Charline Labonte Boisbriand, Que./McGill University, CIS) are the Olympic veterans in goal.

Women's teams are now allowed 23 players, instead of the previous 21, at world championships. Church was able to choose a 13th forward and seventh defenceman to fill certain roles as the men's teams do.

"For a 13th forward, you need someone who can be flexible, maybe play the penalty kill, play at centre and also on the wing, someone who can move in and out of the lineup and has the mental ability to handle that role," Church explained.

"It's the same with the seventh defenceman — someone who can play a special-teams role whether that's power play or penalty kill and handle the fact they might not play a lot of minutes."

Aside from Piper, the other four players released Sunday were Emmanuelle Blais (Montreal, Que./Montreal, CWHL), Sarah Edney Mississauga, Ont./Harvard University, HE), Jesse Scanzano (Dollard-des-Ormeaux, Que./Toronto, CWHL), and Tara Watchorn (Newcastle, Ont./Boston University, HE).

Hockey Canada is expected to announce next spring the players who will be invited to centralize in Calgary, Alta., and try out for the 2014 Olympic Winter Games team.

Female head scout Melody Davidson, who coached the women to Olympic gold in 20, will be in Vermont watching Canada's current players, with the Olympics in mind.

"All three worlds in this quadrennial are going to benefit us," Davidson said. "We'll see a lot of people in different situations. I really believe it's going to be one of our toughest selections for centralization."

The International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) drastically altered the format of this year's world championship, creating two pools based on rankings.

Canada, the U.S., Finland and Russia are in one pool as the top four teams, while Germany, Slovakia, Sweden and Switzerland are in the other.

The top two teams in Canada's Pool A get byes to the semifinals. The bottom two meet the top two from Pool B in the quarter-finals.

Unlike other years, when Canada and the U.S. beat up on lower-ranked teams in the preliminary round, they'll face opposition closer to their level of competition in the round-robin.

Canada lost last year's final 3-2 in overtime in Zurich, Switzerland. At the 2011 4 Nations Cup in November, the Canadians fell 4-3 in a shootout to the Americans in the championship game.

"We've been on the end of some very tough losses, a shootout loss and overtime loss," Wickenheiser said. "Instead of playing for a bounce, it would be nice to dominate a performance and win a game decisively.

"It's a different mindset, playing to survive in a game versus playing to dominate and really take over the game. That's where our collective team game has to get to in mindset and mentality."

For more information:

Esther Madziya
Manager, Communications
Hockey Canada

(403) 284-6484 

Spencer Sharkey
Manager, Communications
Hockey Canada

(403) 777-4567

Jeremy Knight
Manager, Corporate Communications
Hockey Canada

(647) 251-9738

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