Canadian women's hockey targets 2nd gold medal of season when puck drops in Beijing
Star forward Poulin leads versatile 23-player squad into 2022 Winter Olympics
The Canadian women's hockey team set itself a goal of winning two gold medals this season, and it already secured one after capturing its first world championship in almost a decade last August.
With the Olympic roster having been announced on Tuesday, here's a look at the 23 athletes who will aim to complete the mission in Beijing.
Kristen Campbell, Ann-Renée Desbiens, Emerance Maschmeyer
Goaltending is the one position that was effectively locked in, with three roster spots available and three centralized players.
Based on recent starts, Desbiens appears to have the coaches' favour for the starting job, with Maschmeyer in close contention. The pair of 27-year-olds have claimed the crease in past world championships, though Desbiens is the only netminder of the trio with Olympic experience, having played one preliminary-round game in Pyeongchang.
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She notes Campbell's extensive resume at the collegiate and U22 levels, which lends familiarity with many Olympic opponents, along with competition in preparatory games against junior boys.
Erin Ambrose, Ashton Bell, Renata Fast, Jocelyne Larocque, Ella Shelton, Claire Thompson, Micah Zandee-Hart (Final cut: Meaghan Mikkelson)
The defence includes a balanced split of four left-handed shots and three righties.
Sauvageau describes the group as effective puck-movers who can support the offence, with the speed and intelligence to recover defensively.
"This is the future of hockey," Sauvageau told CBC Sports. "The game of hockey is to get the puck on your stick, and to protect this possession as long as you can."
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Throughout the fall, Canada consistently relied on a top pairing of Larocque and Fast. Going into her third Olympics, Larocque is a veteran leader and fierce competitor. Fast, the only other returning Olympian on the blue line, is a smooth skater who can play with an edge.
An early cut from the roster in 2017-18, Ambrose has focused on improving her skating, which combined with her already-excellent passing has helped her develop into a strong playmaker.
Thompson and Shelton, who each had a grand total of two senior international games to their names before 2021, have integrated confidently into the senior squad.
Since returning from an injury that kept her out until September, Zandee-Hart ― who was among the final cuts in 2018 ― has also become a mainstay.
MacLeod notes that none of the rookies seemed fazed at worlds, and says they've thrived by being allowed to play to their respective strengths.
"I think that youthful, inspired, new energy will only be an asset at the end of the day," MacLeod told CBC Sports.
Mikkelson, the final cut, missed most of the year recovering from a serious knee injury. The 37-year-old was limited to a small sample size of games ― made even smaller by COVID-19 cancellations.
Emily Clark, Mélodie Daoust, Sarah Fillier, Brianne Jenner, Rebecca Johnston, Emma Maltais, Sarah Nurse, Marie-Philip Poulin, Jamie Lee Rattray, Jill Saulnier, Natalie Spooner, Laura Stacey, Blayre Turnbull (Final cuts: Victoria Bach, Kristin O'Neill)
More than half of the forwards have spent meaningful time playing centre, providing a versatile offering for head coach Troy Ryan.
Sauvageau highlights the importance of flexibility provided by players who can move up and down the lineup.
Led by captain Poulin, the forward group consists of three Olympic rookies and ten returnees, with everyone having featured in at least one world championship.
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Daoust is the reigning most outstanding player from both the Olympics and worlds, and has combined well with Fillier, a dynamic rising star. Jenner, Johnston and Spooner bring considerable experience, and Clark has shown she can factor in throughout the lineup.
Turnbull and Nurse lead a strong bottom six that will likely feature Maltais, Saulnier, and Stacey. At 29, Rattray is the oldest of the newbies, and has proven to be impactful and adaptable.
Both Sauvageau and MacLeod contend that the term "bottom six" is hardly an accurate description for those players, who have the skills to play higher in the lineup ― providing considerable depth and the opportunity to roll four fast-paced, imposing lines.
With a blend of youth and experience, Sauvageau and MacLeod point to confidence and consistency as the key ingredients to this team's Olympic success.
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