Staggering support pushing team Canada at women's world championships

Hamiltonian Lauro Fortino is hoping the Canadian squad can keep rolling at the 2013 IIHF Ice Hockey Women's World Championship.
Team Canada's Laura Fortino celebrates a goal with teammate Jocelyne Larocque (right) as Team USA looks on during an exhibition game from last year's IIHF women's world championships. This year's team is off to a strong 2-0 start after wins against the U.S and Switzerland. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

Few crowds have ever erupted in front of Hamilton's Laura Fortino like the one in Ottawa did after Tuesday night's win against the U.S at the 2013 women's hockey championship.

"That was the biggest crowd I've ever played in," Fortino said. "It was unbelievable to see the support."

As first games go, it was a big one. Canada fought back from a two-goal deficit and overcame the loss of captain Hayley Wickenheiser to beat the U.S. 3–2 in a shootout to open the tournament.

Fortino told CBC Hamilton that there is always something special about beating the team's southern neighbours.  "They're our biggest rivals, and any time we get a chance to beat them, it's a great feeling," she said. "Our main goal is to get better at each and every game — and the way we ended off that game, we were hoping to carry on for the rest of the tournament."

And the Canadian squad managed to keep that momentum rolling Wednesday night, when it blew out Switzerland 13-0. Marie-Philip Poulin scored four times, and Canada fired a staggering 79 shots at the Swiss net. Canadian goaltender Charline Labonte stopped 16 shots for the shutout.

The 22-year-old defenceman says the Canadian team can stay successful by keeping it simple and staying in the moment. "We have to embrace it — work hard each and every shift and take nothing for granted," she said. "If we do that and play aggressive and confident, and use all of our assets and skills, I think we'll be very successful."

Fortino is a Hamiltonian born and raised — and yes, she is a distant relative of John Fortino of the Fortino's supermarket chain.

"I think it's my dad's cousin," she laughed. "They are related to us in some way."

Fortino grew up playing in the city with teams like the AA Bantam boys Hamilton Reps and the Stoney Creek Junior Sabres. Her first game representing Canada came back in 2008 at the at the IIHF’s U18 tournament in Calgary, and in 2009 she joined Cornell University to play for Big Red of the NCAA. Fortino was the first player from Cornell to be awarded first-team All-America honours, and in her second year, she was a top-ten finalist for the Patty Kazmaier award as NCAA MVP.

Fortino says her four years under Cornell head coach Doug Derraugh were integral to her development as a defenceman.

"With all that experience there they've helped me learn the game and get to this next level," she said.

But her time in Hamilton is still the foundation of all her skills, she added.

"I'm very fortunate and humbled to be part of such a great hockey city. I feel like I owe it to all of them for helping me get to where I am today," Fortino said.

"I've been fortunate enough to be part of some great teams and have great coaches — really, my experience in hockey so far has been unbelievable. I wouldn't want to take anything back from it."

Team Canada currently sits atop Pool A at 2–0 ahead of Finland and the United States tied at 1–1 and the Swiss at 0–2. The Americans doubled the Finns 4-2 on Wednesday. Canada concludes the preliminary round Friday against Finland.

With files from the Canadian Press