CIS teams feed 3 Olympic rosters in women’s hockey

Canada’s women’s hockey team has a heavy Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS) connection once again – and the CIS is well represented at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics Games overall. It’s refreshing to see the CIS act a feeder system to the Olympic level.

Women's hockey players who have played in the CIS who will lace up for Canada, beginning on Saturday against Switzerland, include team captain Caroline Ouellette (Concordia), Mélodie Daoust (McGill), Jenna Hefford (Toronto), Catherine Ward (McGill), Hayley Wickenheiser (Calgary) and Charline Labonté (McGill).

For the Olympics in general, McGill University alone has an 18-member entourage representing the campus, with a half-dozen athletes, two coaches and 10 administrators with McGill ties.

McGill’s hockey representation leads a strong McGill contingent overall that also includes snowboarder (half-pipe) Alexandra Duckworth, an arts student on leave, from Kingsburg, N.S., and cross-country skier Daria Gaiazova, a native of Banff, Alta., who was born in Moscow and is a part-time commerce student who previously competed for Russia at the 2010 Vancouver Games. Also competing for Ireland is McGill grad Jan Rossiter, another nordic skier, born in Cork, Ireland but raised in Kingston, Ont. Rossiter is a former MVP of McGill's nordic ski team and has completed the Canadian ski marathon on three occasions. One other prominent McGill grad heading to Russia is men's hockey head coach Mike Babcock.

While the Calgary Dinos were extremely proud of Wickenheiser being selected as the flag-bearer, another U of C women's hockey player, Iya Gavrilova, will suit up for Russia. Both Dinos are expected to return to play CIS hockey at Calgary in 2014, as Gavrilova has yet to graduate and Wickenheiser is likely to apply to med school. Both have eligibility remaining and both took the CIS season off as both women’s hockey national teams trained centrally this year.

Rounding out the women's hockey picture, the UPEI Panthers are also being represented as Anja Weisser was selected to play for Germany.

The U of C has a number of other students representing Canada - 25 in all including the Dinos duo - but the school also have another connection to the Olympics, one often overlooked yet important storyline. The Canadian Sport Institute, with six locations in Canada, works and provides support services, counsels athletes throughout their careers and actively encourages them to go to school, so they're ready for the next stage in their life after sport. Calgary is one of nation’s Canadian Sports Institute sites, and in fact was the first location, selected in 1994. It’s both convenient and practical with the University being the site of the 1988 Calgary Olympic Oval and a number of high-performance facilities along with sports medicine, physiotherapy and nutrition services all in one location. There are also offices in Victoria, Vancouver and Whistler (CSI Pacific), Toronto (the base for CSI Ontario), Regina and Saskatoon (CSI Saskatchewan), Winnipeg, Montreal and Halifax (CSI Atlantic).

The CSIs partnering with Canadian university campuses makes sense - it entices Canada's high performance athletes to study at home while getting the training support they need. While rowing is not a CIS sport (yet), we see similar partnerships for high-performance rowing programs paired with regional and national training centres (like in London, Ont., Burnaby, B.C., St. Catharines, Ont., and Victoria, B.C.).

There has been speculation for other National Sports Organizations to partner with Canadian universities - I see it as a win-win. Cross-country running, rugby 15s and 7s, and many other sports could benefit from this kind of campus-NSO partnership.

Regardless of how it plays out in the future, it will be a proud moment for Canadian universities to see their athletes shine on the world's biggest sports stage over the weekend.

If you know of a Canadian student-athlete competing in the Winter Olympics we have not mentioned, please email me at andydkwatson@hotmail.com to share your information.