Canadian women's hockey team yearns for international competition

·4 min read

CALGARY — The Canadian women's hockey team is in desperate need of international games. Gina Kingsbury hopes a Rivalry Series against the United States can happen this winter.

Hockey Canada's director of women's national teams says the COVID-19 pandemic hasn't completely shut the door on a possible series between archrivals.

Rising cases of the virus in both countries and travel restrictions to contain it are barriers to resuming one of the greatest rivalries in sport, however.

"We're still in the talks with USA Hockey to possibly have a Rivalry Series, which was on the docket in a regular season, that we haven't crossed out just yet," Kingsbury told The Canadian Press.

"We both really, really want to play each other for many reasons. We're dying to play games and especially good games against the U.S."

The Americans took the best-of-five Rivalry Series four games to one in 2019-20. The two countries squared off in Hartford, Conn., Moncton, Victoria, Vancouver and Anaheim, Calif.

That series has been the only international competition for both squads since the U.S. edged Canada 3-2 in a shootout for Olympic gold Feb. 22, 2018.

The 2020 women's world championship in Canada was cancelled because of the pandemic. 

The 2019 Four Nations Cup in Sweden was called off because of a dispute between the host team and its federation.

If the 2021 women's world championship in Halifax and Truro, N.S., gets the green light in April, five international games in over two years leading into the tournament would be a shockingly low level of international competition for both countries. 

"On both sides of the border, I'm sure this is the most concerning part," Kingsbury said. "There's been only five international games in the last two years. 

"That's critical experience that we're lacking to give to our athletes."

Both federations need games to make player personnel decisions, not only for a world championship but also for the 2022 Winter Olympic Games in Beijing coming over the horizon.

The roster of women invited to try out for Canada's Olympic team is traditionally named shortly after the world championship. They congregate in Calgary in the summer for months of training and games.

"You're naming your 28 players centralized here and you've got to make sure that you're making the right decisions and you've given the process of selection as much integrity as possible," Kingsbury said.

The U.S. women's team wraps up a week-long, 53-player camp Saturday in Blaine, Minn. 

Kingsbury, an Olympic gold medallist in women's hockey in 2006 and 2010, is waiting until January to bring between 45 and 50 players together in Calgary. She expects to name the camp roster in November.

They're currently training and participating in on-ice skills sessions in Montreal, Toronto and Calgary, although Montreal players are limited in what they can do because of pandemic restrictions.

"The ideal is that we would already have two or three camps under a belt in a normal season," Kingsbury said.

"I think the difference maybe between us and the U.S. is that we've got some more regulations, and certainly more rules and more precautions around COVID.

"I do think that our alternative plans with making sure hubs are running well, our athletes are getting what they need on a daily basis have been pretty good."

 "So far we've done a lot of virtual stuff and the little things that you wouldn't maybe think of doing. I think we got closer as a group through all of this."

A current barrier to a Rivalry Series in 2020-21 is Canada's requirement that Americans must quarantine for 14 days upon arrival, and the Canadians would in turn have to quarantine upon return from the United States.

The Alberta government's recent announcement of a rapid-test pilot project at the Calgary airport to reduce or eliminate quarantines got Kingsbury's attention.

"We're getting more information, what that all means," she said. "We'll obviously bring it up to USA Hockey as an option, if it's a viable option."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 29, 2020.

Donna Spencer, The Canadian Press