After 4 long years, Canada's women's hockey team gets another crack at U.S. on Olympic ice
Maintaining cool in unusual Monday game testament to character built up over years
There couldn't have been a more jarring situation to face than what the Canadian women's hockey team was up against Monday afternoon in Beijing.
And yet the players, coaches and support staff didn't flinch. In a bizarre twist, the game was delayed by more than an hour over safety and security concerns.
- AnalysisDelays, masks, and lineup changes: Adaptability a key theme for Canadian women's hockey team
When the teams finally did arrive on the ice, all the players were wearing N95 masks under their helmet cages. It was an unprecedented and unique scene to say the least.
WATCH | COVID chaos during Canada's game against the ROC:
And so they played, masks on, and Canada stormed out to a 2-0 lead on the way to a 6-1 win to remain a perfect 3-0 at the tournament.
"I think this group knows how to adapt so well, it's just another bump in the road and we did what we could. That's what so special about this group is the ability to make the most of the situation and adjust," Canadian defenceman Erin Ambrose said.
That's what this Team Canada has been focusing on over the past two years, creating a culture and DNA of poise and unwavering confidence.
As for the N95 masks during last night's game:<br><br>Prior to the third period, both teams received the necessary negative COVID-19 test results. <br><br>The teams were given the option to remove their masks for the final period, but Canada’s players chose to finish the game with masks on.—@Devin_Heroux
"We told our girls to put their masks on and it was business as usual." head coach Troy Ryan said after the game.
Ryan, who took over as head coach in May 2021, is as unflappable as it gets. His calm demeanour is evident. Nothing seems to shake the 50-year-old from Spryfield, N.S. And his steely resolve has reverberated throughout the team.
WATCH | Canada stays perfect:
The Canadians have been intentional in their training the past two years, working to ensure no situation would become too daunting or great for them to overcome.
"I am confident that if our girls do play with that kind of confidence and that kind of energy that good things are going to happen for them," he said.
Now the real test.
And the Canadians are brimming with confidence. In a lot of ways, their pursuit to win gold again at the Olympics began the second they lost in heartbreaking fashion at the last Games four years ago in a shootout.
"That moment crushed me a lot. As a group it was still hard to swallow," captain Marie-Philip Poulin said.
Losing that game still stings for Poulin. It's driven her training over the past quadrennial. She's been pushing herself at the gym and throughout practices more than ever in her career.
And when her moment to step up came in last summer's women's hockey championship, Poulin delivered another famous moment scoring the overtime winner for Canada against the United States.
"They [USA] have a great team but we gave them way too much respect the last two years. This last world championship we found our team culture and team identity," Poulin said.
WATCH | Poulin strikes gold in OT at 2021 worlds:
These past two years have been hard for the Canadian women. Torn apart throughout the pandemic, they were forced to spend countless hours on Zoom meetings to prepare for these Games.
Never before did they have downtime like this to figure out who they were as individuals and who they wanted to be as a team.
There were unending vulnerable conversations — that's allowed the Canadian women's hockey team to change the direction of their path and program.
"I think this group has done a good job using that as motivation," Brianne Jenner said.
"The pause, for a team sport, just emphasized how much fun and brightness is brought to your life by your teammates. That year away from those dressing room moments have made me grateful."
Jenner, 30, from Oakville, Ont., is playing in her third Olympics. She says during that time away from training and competitive play, the team was having conversations about how to create the best possible atmosphere for everyone from the coaches to the players to the support staff.
"It didn't happen overnight. It took a lot of purposeful effort. We talked about our culture. We took a big step at the worlds," she said. "As things are thrown our way can we keep that culture we want to have? We think so."
Jenner says everyone has a role to play and everyone on the team feels they can show up freely to be themselves. That lighter, and fun, atmosphere is allowing the Canadian players to thrive.
Jenner says the team was also inspired by the Canadian women's soccer team's Olympic championship. They were all in centralization camp in Calgary and waking up early every day together to watch Christine Sinclair and the Canadians play.
"It was so inspiring to watch. What stood out about that game. We're watching a team sport. Canada's team. The way the women carried themselves in the shootout inspired us. The confidence. How much they were in the zone," Jenner said.
"That's something we're big on. Seeing [goalkeeper] Steph [Labbe]. And her face. She stepped up. We took a lot from that."
As much as we may have inspired you, you have always been an inspiration for us. Behind you every step of the way 🙌🏼🇨🇦🏒 <a href="https://twitter.com/HockeyCanada?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@HockeyCanada</a> <a href="https://t.co/UbPXgqKaGN">https://t.co/UbPXgqKaGN</a>—@stephlabbe1
This is just the first one, a preliminary game, before the inevitable meeting in the gold medal game once again.
"It's one day at a time and when that game comes we'll be ready to go mentally and physically," Poulin said.
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