After 4 long years, Canada's women's hockey team gets another crack at U.S. on Olympic ice

There couldn’t have been a more jarring situation to face than what the Canadian women’s hockey team were up against Monday afternoon in Beijing.

Maintaining cool in unusual Monday game testament to character built up over years

Team Canada players, wearing masks because of concerns about COVID, celebrate after defeating the Russian Olympic Committee on Monday. (Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press)

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.

The Canadians didn't feel comfortable playing without there being further discussion around testing results, as it wasn't clear the Russian team, officially called the Russian Olympic Committee, had submitted all testing results prior to playing.

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:

Poulin scores beautiful OT winner to clinch Canada gold at the worlds

2 years ago
Duration 2:22
Marie-Philip Poulin scored a fantastic goal to give Canada the 3-2 win and their first gold medal at the worlds since 2012.

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.

"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.

Canada head coach Troy Ryan, left, speaks with officials before the delayed start of the game on Monday. (Petr David Josek/The Associated Press)

Rivalry renewed

Now the real test.

Canada readies for the Americans. That rivalry of two women's hockey juggernauts is about to be renewed on the grandest athletic stages once again.

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.

Canada forward Marie-Philip Poulin, centre, consoles Meghan Agosta, left, after losing to the United States in the gold medal final at the 2018 Olympic Winter Games, a loss that still stings the Canadian captain. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press)

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.

Canada's Brianne Jenner (19) wears a COVID mask as she plays against Russian Olympic Committee's Anna Savonina (72). Jenner is being relied on as a leader in Beijing as a three-time Olympian. (Petr David Josek/The Associated Press)

"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.

Canadian players celebrate after the final whistle to beat Sweden for gold at the Tokyo Olympics, a feat that the women's hockey team is using as motivation in Beijing. (Naomi Baker/Getty Images)

"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."

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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