The Canadian Olympic women's hockey team didn't quite know what to expect on its recent trip to Sochi, the host city of the 2014 Winter Games, but the palm trees certainly grabbed the player's attention.
"It really is a beautiful place, right on the Black Sea," Canadian forward Meghan Agosta-Marciano said this week.
"Yes, there were palm trees. When I got off the plane, I thought ,'Wow.'
"There is no doubt in my mind that the Russians will put on a show. But there still is a lot of work to do."
The Canadian women's team still has some work to do, too. But its visit to Sochi not only enabled the players to perform in a couple games against a Russian team that won bronze at the 2013 world championship, but they became accustomed to the surroundings so there are no surprises at the Winter Olympics in February.
"This was an amazing opportunity for the team to go over Sochi and get familiarized with the venues," said Agosta-Marciano, a two-time Olympic gold medallist.
"Now when we go back in February, we're not going to be in awe of the place. We're not going to be tourists, we're going to be focused on what we need to do.
"The food and the time change [11 hours ahead of team's home base in Calgary] were the biggest things. It took different people on our team different amounts of time to get used to the time change.
"To be able to go over there and experience that, to be able to go there and skate on the ice we're going to be playing on and to see all the other venues was a cool experience."
The 26-year-old Agosta-Marciano, from Ruthven, Ont., near Windsor, described the Olympic Park in Sochi as a circular setting in which all the venues are situated. Shaybe Arena, where Canada beat Russia 6-1 and 9-1 in two exhibition games, is right beside the women's practice rink and a short stroll from the athletes village.
Now that the trip to Russia is behind the Canadian women's team, the next area of focus will be a heavy fall schedule of games against AAA boys teams from the Alberta Midget Hockey League, a six-game series against chief rival United States and the 2013 Four Nations Cup at Lake Placid, N.Y., from Nov. 5-9.
The Canada-U.S. series begins on Oct. 12 in Burlington, Vt. The first game in Canada will take place Oct. 17 at the Centre d'Excellence Sports Rousseau in Boisbriand, Que.
'So much faster, so much stronger'
The Canadian women's team will play more than 30 games this fall against the AAA midget teams, beginning Thursday with the opening day of Icebreaker Tournament against the Calgary Flames, Strathmore Bisons and South East Athletic Club Tigers at Calgary's Markin MacPhail Centre, the national team's training facility.
"The boys are so much faster, so much stonger," Agosta-Marciano said. "Everything is a step quicker.
"They really do push us to be the best we can be. We're thankful that they play against us.
"They really do prepare us to play the best of the best at the Olympics.
"We've already been together for a month and things are going to go by really quickly here."
Follow Tim Wharnsby on Twitter @WharnsbyCBC
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