Sarah Fillier finds her footing with Canadian women's hockey team

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CALGARY — When Sarah Fillier was handed the plain, black game puck to commemorate her first world championship goal for Canada, assistant captain Brianne Jenner borrowed it for a few minutes.

"Brianne Jenner took the puck and taped it up and wrote all this stuff on it," Fillier told The Canadian Press on Saturday.

"I've always looked up to her and kind of wanted to play with her. For her to say 'let me let me get some tape on that puck for you' was so cool."

Fillier was an impact player in her women's world hockey championship debut for Canada.

The 21-year-old from Georgetown, Ont., scored the third-period, go-ahead goal in a 5-3 win over Finland to open the tournament Friday in Calgary.

The Finns had pulled even just 25 seconds before Fillier batted in a feed from Natalie Spooner.

"It was a huge swing in momentum and it was awesome to celebrate it with the team," Fillier said.

Canada faces Russia on Sunday in Pool A, followed by Switzerland on Tuesday and defending champion United States on Thursday at WinSport's Markin MacPhail Centre.

The quarterfinals are Saturday followed by the Aug. 30 semifinals and medal games Aug. 31.

Fillier's game-winner wasn't her first goal for the national women's team.

She became the first player born in 2000 to score for the senior side in her debut at the 2018 Four Nations Cup in Saskatoon.

The five-foot-five forward contributed a goal and an assist in a pair of wins over the U.S. in the fall of 2019 during her sophomore year at Princeton.

Fillier's superior hockey sense applied to a two-way game makes her "one of the best 200-foot players in North America," according to Princeton coach Cara Morey.

Fillier was on the cusp of major milestones in her hockey career in 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic dealt her a double-whammy.

Princeton had reached the quarterfinals of the NCAA women's Division 1 championship that was cancelled.

Fillier also made Canada's roster for the world championship in Halifax and Truro, N.S., which was also called off within days of the NCAA's cancellation.

"I kind of just thought it was like a temporary thing, like 'hey, we'll be back next season,"' Fillier said. "It really sucked, but I think the way to move forward was just kind of be like, 'OK, like this happened. What am I going to do now?'"

When she learned Ivy League hockey wouldn't happen in 2020-21 because of the pandemic, Fillier, whose twin sister Kayla also plays for Princeton, decided to take a year off school.

Her parents Dave and Maureen agreed with Fillier's decision to remain in the Toronto area last winter to work out and skate with national-team players in the area.

"They were on board and fully supportive of me taking the year off and training with the national team, which was huge for my development," Fillier said.

She and the rest of the Canadian team were in Halifax in May for another try at holding a world championship when it was abruptly cancelled by the premier.

"I think when we first found out it was kind of just like disbelief," Fillier recalled. "How is this happening again? How is this happening so close to the tournament? It definitely was a strange moment."

Her dismay turned to delight when Canadian head coach Troy Ryan and Hockey Canada director of national women's hockey teams Gina Kingsbury informed Fillier she'd been summoned to Calgary this summer to try out for the 2022 Olympic team.

"I just couldn't stop smiling and honestly couldn't really find the words," Fillier said. "I'm a pretty emotional person and it was super-weird when they told me. I was shocked. I couldn't cry, but I was so excited. I was speechless."

A world championship roster of 25 players was selected from the 29 centralized. Fillier is one of eight players making their world championship debut.

"They're a big part of our team. We've been telling them that since camp started," Jenner said. "I had the opportunity to train for the past couple years with Fillier.

"She's an amazing talent, but she puts in the work, she's prepared for this tournament and I'm excited to see what she can do along with the rest of the rookies."

Fillier feels her decision to stay in Ontario last year will help her chances of playing for Canada in Beijing in February.

"Being able to take that year off and spend five days a week on the ice and in the gym with Natalie Spooner and Brianne Jenner and Erin Ambrose and all these people who are professionals and know what level they need to be at every day, that was so huge," Fillier said

"I'm so excited to finally put that on the ice here at a world championship and hopefully get on that Beijing roster and show it off there too."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 21, 2021.

Donna Spencer, The Canadian Press

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