Canadian women's team announced for Four Nations Cup
The Canadian women's hockey team has overhauled the defence for the Four Nations Cup in November.
Of the seven defencemen named to the roster Monday for the annual tournament Nov. 9-14 in Nykoeping, Sweden, none were on Canada's victorious team from the 2010 Winter Olympics. Only two defenders played in this year's world championship.
The Four Nations Cup features Canada, the U.S., Sweden and Finland. Canada edged the U.S. 3-2 in overtime to win last year's tournament held in St. John's and Clarenville, N.L.
Prior to the 2010 Olympic Games, then-head coach Melody Davidson focused on developing defenders with offensive skills and mindsets, in order to put more pressure on opposing defences.
Now the plan has altered to incorporating young defenders and ensuring they have the defensive skills to play at the world level, according to current head coach Dan Church.
"With the three retirements after Vancouver, it really showed we needed to have greater depth in terms of our defensive defencemen and so that's an area we have to invest in and spend some time coaching and teaching and developing," Church explained Monday from Toronto.
"These are all really talented players who are under consideration for future events with the senior team. We really need to develop their defensive abilities, to strengthen that part of our pool of players and programs."
So Tessa Bonhomme, currently competing in the figure skating reality show "Battle Of The Blades," Catherine Ward and Meaghan Mikkelson are the three Olympians not on the blue-line for the Four Nations, although they remain in Hockey Canada's pool of players under consideration for the 2012 world championship.
Becky Kellar, Colleen Sostorics and Carla MacLeod retired after the 2010 Games.
Bobbi Jo Slusar from Swift Current, Sask., and Jocelyne Larocque of Ste. Anne, Man., played for Canada at this year's world championships. Courtney Birchard of Mississauga, Ont., was in Canada's lineup at last year's Four Nations Cup.
Laura Fortino of Hamilton, Ont., Stefanie McKeough of Carlsbad Springs, Ont., Cassandra Poudrier of Lachenaie, Que., and Lauriane Rougeau of Beaconsfield, Que., will make their debut with the senior team at the Four Nations. They range in age from 19 to 21. Birchard is 22.
Church, who also coaches York University's women's team, says Canada hasn't sacrificed its competitive edge to develop players.
"First and foremost, any time Hockey Canada goes to an event, our aim is to win and I don't think that changes with this group," he said. "We're going to Sweden with the aim of winning a gold medal at that event.
"We're looking to continue to develop our player pool. Ultimately that will set us up better for world championships at the end of the season and for [the 2014 Olympics in] Sochi moving forward."
Church doesn't expect Canada to play a more conservative game, despite inexperience on the back end.
"We want to be fast on defence, create offence off of good defence and a strong transitional game," he said. "It's an opportunity to see these younger players and test themselves against high-level competition. It's part of the overall plan of getting better."
Among other changes, veteran goaltender Kim St. Pierre is taking this season off to have a baby. Christina Kessler of Mississauga has moved up to third goalie on Canada's depth chart behind Shannon Szabados and Charline Labonte.
Up front, veterans from the Olympic squad include Hayley Wickenheiser, Jayna Hefford, Meghan Agosta, Gillian Apps, Rebecca Johnston, Marie-Philip Poulin and Haley Irwin.
Winger and assistant captain Caroline Ouellette will not play in Sweden with what Church calls a lower-body injury.
"It's more of a functional thing for her, but a fairly long rehab process on what she's going through," Church said.
Ouellette's absence opened up a spot for forward Melodie Daoust of Valleyfield, Que., to make her senior team debut.
Canada opens the Four Nations Cup on Nov. 9 against Finland.
The U.S., winner of three straight world championships, is ranked No. 1 by the International Ice Hockey Federation ahead of Canada at No. 2. Finland is No. 3 and Sweden is ranked fourth.