WESLEY CHAPEL, Fla. — A year ago Jennifer Wakefield would have shared a dressing room with Swedes Emilia Ramboldt and Pernilla Winberg.
The three were teammates with Linkoping HC in the Swedish Hockey League the previous three seasons.
But on Tuesday afternoon Wakefield fired three goals and an assist and was Team Canada's player of the game in a 9-0 thrashing of Team Sweden in the opening game of the 4 Nations Cup. Canada will face the United States Wednesday night.
"I didn't really line up against them on any draws, but it's still pretty cool that they are here and they are vying for a spot on Sweden's Olympic roster," Wakefield said of her former teammates.
The speedy 28-year-old Pickering, Ont., native helped Canada win a gold medal at the 2014 Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia, and then decided to take her act on the road.
"I was looking to do something and I really like to snowboard so I decided to go to the most northern point of Sweden that had a team and signed on to have a cool experience," Wakefield said. "It's a pretty good league. It has all the top European players whether they are from Russia, Finland, Sweden, Switzerland. It's a lot of fun."
In three seasons with Linkoping, Wakefield scored 90 goals and 130 points in 63 games. A robust player, the five-foot-10, 172-lb. Wakefield had a whopping 63 penalty minutes last season, but claims her total was inflated by a case of mistaken identity.
"I got suspended for a fight so that piled the minutes on," Wakefield said with a laugh. "I took a hit to the head — the second one that game — so I just lost it. Then the other big one was, we had a scrum against one of the teams and I had actually just gone on the ice and so I wasn't really a part of it. I hung out at the blue line and they gave me five minutes for fighting. They said No. 8 got the penalty and because I had my jersey tucked in, they couldn't see that I was actually No. 9. I somehow got two penalties for fighting. Really my penalty total should have been around 40."
Wakefield said the Sweden experience has definitely had a positive impact on her game.
"Learning from some of the top European players, whether it was Swedish, Norwegian, Austrian, was great," Wakefield said. "We had such a cool mix of diverse players that it was fun picking the brains of different nationalities and learning about different philosophies."
Coach wants her to shoot more
Team Canada coach Laura Schuler said Wakefield remains a power forward who is encouraged to use her powerful shot more often. Schuler believes Wakefield has taken advantage of the different style of hockey she experienced in Sweden.
"Playing more of an open game has allowed her to play more heads-up hockey," Schuler said. "[Tuesday] against Sweden you not only saw her ability to shoot the puck, but she made some nice plays away from the puck."
Wakefield is one of 28 Canadian women who are centred in Calgary and vying for the 2018 Olympic team. If she makes the team it will be her second Olympics, but it could have been her third. In 2009 Wakefield was trying out for the team that won the gold medal in Vancouver, B.C., but broke her hand and missed the Games.
"That sucked," Wakefield said. "It was awful. Would I have made the team? I don't know. I wanted to be there, so it was hard to watch the games on TV."
Wakefield was vindicated in 2014 in Sochi.
"It was fantastic," she said. "It's easy to have good memories when you win the gold medal, right?"
Now that Wakefield is a veteran on Team Canada, she believes her role will change. Always considered a grinder who keeps the opposition honest with her physical play, it was evident against Sweden on Tuesday that she can contribute at both ends of the ice.
Could have had more than 4 points
Three goals and four points were a nifty accomplishment, but Wakefield easily could have added to her totals. She nearly struck on a wraparound in the first period and barely missed connecting on a one-timer from the slot.
Wakefield loves to contribute on offence, but said she'll be content with any role that is offered to her.
"I will take whatever position the coach gives me on the team," Wakefield said, "Whether it's on the checking line or above. We have so many good players in Canada that it is hard to pick 23 from among them."
Team Sweden didn't arrive in Tampa Bay until midnight Monday and looked leg weary against the swift Canadians. Canada out-shot Sweden 40-9.
Meghan Agosta chipped in two goals for Canada with Rebecca Johnston, Sarah Nurse, Sarah Potomak and captain Marie-Philip Poulin adding one apiece. Defenceman Brigette Lacquette had four assists and Poulin had three.
Genevieve Lacasse made nine saves to record the shutout.