CALGARY - The Canadian national women's team is about to embark on a road trip.
From Calgary to Toronto to Moscow and finally to Sochi, this country's top women hockey players will make the long trek on Sunday to the host city of the 2014 Winter Olympics for 11 days of training.
This excursion will not only give the Canadian women's team a chance to become accustomed to the surroundings in Sochi, the Canadian players will test themselves in two games against a Russian team that won a bronze medal at the world championship in Ottawa last spring.
"I think Russia will be a different environment than any other games we've participated in before, said veteran Hayley Wickenheiser, who turned 35 earlier this month. "There is the language, everything, even the food. It's just to give everyone a sense on what to expect when we get there for the Olympics. It sets us at a comfort level in terms of what to bring the next time we go."
After a summer boot camp, the Canadian women recently assembled in Calgary to begin the team's centralized camp that will see them prepare together for five-plus months for the 2014 Sochi Olympics.
They will play more than 50 exhibition games before returning to Sochi in February. The team's ambitious schedule will be highlighted by the Four Nations Cup in Lake Placid, N.Y. in November. There also will be a series of games against their chief rival from the United Sates and about 30 games against teams from Alberta's AAA midget boys league.
"The lead up, for me, is always exciting," Wickenheiser said. "It's never dull or boring. There always are new challenges and new things that happen."
The Canadian women's roster currently has 27 players and that number has to be trimmed to 21 by late December.
While the roster still contains 13 gold medalists from the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver and 22 players from the world championship team that lost in the final to the United States in April, there are five newcomers still with the team.
Wickenheiser, who revealed this week she's in the process of applying to medical school, Jayna Hefford, 36, and Caroline Ouellette, 34, are the only players who remain from the three gold-medal Olympic teams in 2002, 2006 and 2010.
Hefford agreed that the young talent has pushed her and made her a much better player from her early days in the national team program in the mid-1990s.
"They bring the energy and they bring the deer-in-the-headlights sort of thing," Hefford said. "It's fun to watch them and listen to their comments. At the same time, you have to remind them that this is a long haul and not a sprint. Some days are going to be more difficult than others."
"To see some of these players to be able to do what they can at age 18, it's amazing. They do way more than what I was able to do when I was 18. It pushes myself and some of the older players. You have to get better. If I was just happy to be here, I wouldn't be here."