Soccer triumph galvanizes Canadian women's hockey team ahead of world championship

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CALGARY — Canada's women's hockey team is bent on replicating the success of its soccer counterparts on the world stage.

The hockey players were up early at their Calgary hotel and glued to the dining room television when Canadian women beat Sweden in penalty shots to claim Olympic soccer gold in Tokyo earlier this month.

"We wanted to get on the ice right after that game. We were all fired up," Canadian hockey captain Marie-Philip Poulin told The Canadian Press.

"For us watching the soccer game, it was amazing. Those girls really stood together. It's a different sport, but at the same time, we do all the same sacrifices, we do all that hard work for that moment.

"I think they really inspired us."

Just two weeks after the soccer triumph in Tokyo, Canada opens the women's world hockey championship Friday against Finland in Calgary.

Canadian teams have won gold in 10 world championships, but not since 2012 in Burlington, Vt.

Canada lost to host Finland in a semifinal in Espoo, and didn't reach the final for the first time, in the last world championship held in 2019.

The Canadians finished third. The United States edged Finland in a shootout to claim a fifth straight world title.

Canada downed the Finns 4-1 in Wednesday's pre-tournament game and faces them again in the tournament opener.

The host country then meets Russia on Sunday, Switzerland on Tuesday and concludes the preliminary round Thursday in Pool A against the Americans.

The Czech Republic, Japan, Germany and promoted Hungary and Denmark are in Pool B.

The quarterfinals are Aug. 28 followed by the Aug. 30 semifinals and the medal games Aug. 31.

No tickets were sold for the preliminary round at WinSport's Markin MacPhail Centre, but Hockey Canada hasn't ruled out spectators for playoffs.

Both the 2020 and 2021 women's championship in Nova Scotia were cancelled because of COVID-19.

The relocation and rescheduling of the 2021 tournament to Calgary in late summer is an unusual start in Canada's preparation for February's Winter Olympics in Beijing.

Twenty-nine women arrived in Calgary in late July for "centralization".

Hockey Canada's standard practice six to seven months out from a Winter Games is to centralize the women together in Calgary for training and games in order to choose top performers for the Olympic roster.

A world championship off the hop had head coach Troy Ryan quickly choosing his 25-player roster.

"Having the world championship at the front end of your centralization, there's no template for that definitely," he said. "Any time you're selecting a national-team roster, it's also about a body of work.

"Difficult decisions, but ones we were comfortable making at this point."

Poulin and assistant captains Brianne Jenner, Blayre Turnbull and Jocelyne Larocque lead a Canadian side intent on reclaiming women's hockey supremacy over the next seven months.

Poulin played just a few shifts in Espoo because of a knee injury that would have still hampered her in 2020 had that world championship gone ahead.

"While it really sucked we couldn't play that world championship, time heals a lot," said the 30-year-old from Beauceville, Que.

"It really helped me be able to take care of myself physically and mentally."

A third of Canada's roster makes its world championship debut in Calgary — goaltender Kristen Campbell, defenders Ashton Bell, Claire Thompson, Ella Shelton and forwards Victoria Bach, Emma Maltais and Kristin O'Neill.

That's significant turnover on what's been traditionally a veteran squad.

Forward Jessie Eldridge of Barrie, Ont., was added to the centralized roster in July. Veteran defender Meaghan Mikkelson is sidelined with an undisclosed injury.

Mikkelson, Eldridge, defender Micah Zandee-Hart and forward Julia Gosling were left off the world championship roster.

"We're very optimistic they'll compete during centralization and ultimately, hopefully find themselves on roster spots for the Olympics," Ryan said.

Canada has played just seven international games in the more than two years since the last world championship, going 4-3 against the U.S. in 2019-20.

Pandemic restrictions not only eliminated international and domestic games for months, but even group skates where the Canadian players lived were not allowed at times.

The players invested the extra time into physical fitness Both players and management say the women posted the highest scores of their lives in fitness testing upon arrival in Calgary.

"Everyone did the hard work on their own and when it came time to come together, we're ready to go," Poulin said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 19, 2021.

Donna Spencer, The Canadian Press

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