Canada unveils 23-member roster for women's hockey at Winter Olympics
OT hero Marie-Philip Poulin among 14 returnees from 2014 gold-medal squad
Twenty-three Canadian hockey women, including 2014 Olympic hero Marie-Philip Poulin, will be tasked with the challenge of trying to win a fifth straight gold medal in February at the Winter Games in Pyeongchang.
Canada will ice 14 forwards, six defencemen and three goalies in the Feb. 10-22 tournament at South Korea, compared to the previous limit of three netminders and 18 forwards/defencemen.
- Canadian women's team a strong mix of veterans, newcomers
- Poulin focused on Olympic gold — not Hall of Fame
Forward Sarah Potomak of Aldergrove, B.C., and defencemen Halli Krzyzaniak of Neepawa, Man., and Micah Zandee-Hart of Saanichton, B.C., were the team's final three cuts. Forward Amy Potomak and defender Erin Ambrose of Keswick, Ont., were released on Nov. 20.
"I would like to congratulate all 23 of our players that have made our roster," Canada head coach Laura Schuler said at Friday's news conference in Calgary before more than 250 female minor hockey players. "I want to thank them for their hard work, their commitment … but more importantly, I want to thank them for their passion and commitment to learning.
"When we made the final decisions, and we looked at what we needed to win gold, we felt these 23 people were going to be the 23 that we needed to have on the roster."
Four years ago, Poulin shocked the United States with a pair of goals in the gold-medal game, including the winner on a 4-on-3 power play at 8:10 of overtime at Bolshoy Ice Dome in Sochi, Russia.
The Americans won Olympic gold in 1998 when women's hockey was first introduced at the Games in Nagano, Japan, but Canada prevailed in 2002 (Salt Lake City), 2006 (Turin, Italy), 2010 (Vancouver) and 2014.
The Canadians have also been in top form against their arch rivals in pre-Olympic exhibition action. Projected No. 1 goalie Shannon Szabados of Edmonton turned aside 34 shots in a 2-1 OT victory on Sunday in her hometown as Canada took five of six games in their NWT Series.
Szabados and company won four straight versus the U.S. in December after going 1-3 in October and November. Canada dropped a pair of games to the Americans at the Four Nations Cup, including a 5-1 decision on Nov. 12 in the championship game at Amalie Arena, home of the NHL's Tampa Bay Lightning.
"I'm really happy with our process and where we're at," Schuler, the first former Canadian player to coach the team, told reporters recently. "Our girls have been so open to little tweaks and changes in our game plan to help us continue to get better."
Canada, though, will have to guard against being too confident. The Canadians had lost four straight games to the U.S. before arriving in Sochi, where they beat the Americans twice. The U.S., which has won four world championships in a row, is skilled enough to do the same in South Korea.
Canada draws Russia in tourney opener
The teams won't meet again until the preliminary round in Pyeongchang on Feb. 15.
"It is a tremendous accomplishment to be chosen to represent your country at the Olympic Games," Hockey Canada CEO Tom Renney, who coached the 1994 Canadian men's team to an Olympic silver medal in 1994, said in a statement. "We are thrilled with the 23 players selected and we know they will wear the maple leaf with great pride and will leave nothing to chance in their preparation for Pyeongchang."
Canada opens defence of its title Feb. 11 against Russia, which recently had six players barred by the International Olympic committee for doping violations and its sixth-place standing in 2014 stripped.
Schuler, 47, has the luxury of 14 returning players from the 2014 Olympic team and several newcomers, including forward Sarah Nurse, whose cousin Darnell is a defenceman with the Edmonton Oilers. The Toronto native, who takes over from former NHL player and head coach Kevin Dineen, was a forward with the Canadian national team in its lone Olympic gold-medal loss 19 years ago and behind the bench at the past two world championships.
Congrats to my cousin <a href="https://twitter.com/nursey16?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@nursey16</a> !! Can’t wait to watch her represent our country! 🇨🇦 <a href="https://t.co/kgrfPT9p2O">https://t.co/kgrfPT9p2O</a>—@drtwofive
Joining Schuler on the bench are assistants Dwayne Gylywoychuk of Winnipeg and Troy Ryan of Spryfield, N.S. Former longtime Canadian head coach Melody Davidson of Oyen, Alta., is general manager.
A younger Canadian squad will take the ice in South Korea, so the 26-year-old Poulin's leadership is more important than ever. The native of Beauceville, Que., has scored the gold-medal winning goal at each of the past two Olympic Winter Games.
'Heart and soul' player
Poulin has eight goals and 12 points in 10 Olympic games. The Boston University graduate was a three-time finalist for the Patty Kazmaier Award as American college hockey's top female player.
"Poulin has been a great leader for us," Schuler told CBC Sports earlier this month. "Her work ethic speaks for itself. She doesn't take a day off in terms of everything she does off the ice. Her fitness is excellent. She plays with heart and soul."
Anchoring the defence is Meaghan Mikkelson, a 32-year-old Regina native who plays for the Calgary Inferno of the Canadian Women's Hockey League.
She has been a Team Canada mainstay since first playing for the under-22 team in 2003, though she did take a year off to have her son Calder, now two, who will join his mom in Pyeongchang. Joining Mikkelson on the blue-line are 2014 Olympic teammates Jocelyne Larocque, Lauriane Rougeau and Laura Fortino.
Szabados, 31, has the experience in goal, having won Olympic gold in 2010 and 2014. She recorded two shutouts and sported a sparkling 0.33 goals-against average in Vancouver while in Sochi, Szabados was 3-0 with one shutout and a 0.96 GAA.
Growing up, she played with and against male players in the Alberta Junior Hockey League, but took things a step further by playing men's professional hockey in the Southern Pro Hockey League and Central Hockey League.
After a short holiday break, the Canadian women return to Calgary on Dec. 28 to continue Olympic preparations. They will play five games in the new year against Alberta Midget Hockey League opponents before travelling to Pyeongchang.
Canadian Olympic roster
- Shannon Szabados, Edmonton
- Ann-Renée Desbiens, La Malbaie, Que.
- Geneviève Lacasse, Kingston, Ont.
- Renata Fast, Burlington, Ont.
- Laura Fortino, Hamilton
- Brigette Lacquette, Mallard, Man.
- Jocelyne Larocque, Ste. Anne, Man.
- Meaghan Mikkelson, St. Albert, Alta.
- Lauriane Rougeau, Beaconsfield, Que.
- Meghan Agosta, Ruthven, Ont.
- Bailey Bram, Ste. Anne, Man.
- Emily Clark, Saskatoon
- Mélodie Daoust, Valleyfield, Que.
- Haley Irwin, Thunder Bay, Ont.
- Brianne Jenner, Oakville, Ont.
- Rebecca Johnston, Sudbury, Ont.
- Sarah Nurse, Hamilton
- Marie-Philip Poulin, Beauceville, Que.
- Jillian Saulnier, Halifax
- Natalie Spooner, Scarborough, Ont.
- Laura Stacey, Kleinburg, Ont.
- Blayre Turnbull, Stellarton, N.S.
- Jennifer Wakefield, Pickering, Ont.
With files from The Canadian Press