Blog August 29th – Games vs USA
Monday night or Tuesday morning!? Its so late but I cannot sleep. Not going to say the time because my mom would be mad at me. Must be too wired still from our game against the U.S.A.
Game that was added to the tournament as our 7th game in 8 days. But it was great news because all of us on both teams are just eager to face one another as many times as humanly possible! And I certainly wish hockey fans worldwide would have been able to see that game. Even the hard core NHL ‘’like it rough and tough’’ fans. Because let me tell you, there was plenty of that from both sides and yet, the game was fast, back and forth and played with an intensity that resembled desperation. I’ll get back to it but first let me recap the last days
Feels like a long time ago that we faced Slovakia although it was only a couple days ago. Slovakia has just recently cracked the A Pool making their debut in Vancouver for the Olympics. They have a very young team. Age average I would guess to be under 18 years old. Although this Canadian team is young, I think Jayna Hefford and I probably help raising ours considerably! We had a rough first period as a team, probably the first time we were not as sharp as we should have been and we knew it. Slovakia battled hard for 60 minutes and tried to contain us in a very disciplined matter. But in the end they could not match the depth of our team. We got to hit the net 73 times and chances were a few of those were going to go in! Often not on the first shot, but many time on rebounds where we seemed to be quicker to take advantage of. We won 11-0. This Slovakian team has potential if the country invests in its female athletes and their development on and off the ice. They have raw skills and have the same passion we have for the game of hockey. There are just so few of them playing the sport still today, and therefore little competition internally to grow from.
A few milestones in the game… Gen Lacasse first victory with the National team and first shutout. Also Courtney Birchard first goal on the NWT. And it was a pretty one! Toe drag to beat an opponent and shot top cheese before the goalie or as a matter of fact, any goalie would have had the time to react. Courtney played Defense until only a few years ago and let me tell you she does very well at her new position. She has size and is physical, yet she is very skilled with the puck. She has a rocket of a shot. I always say that almost no one can play goalie, very few can play defense, a handful can play center, and most can play wing(the position with the fewest responsibilities in my opinion). What I mean by that is that very few forwards could do the switch at the National team level and be able to play defense. It is much more difficult than it looks and requires smarts and complete skating skills forward and backwards that very few have. I think a few of our forwards could benefit from an appearance on Defense. Definitely makes you appreciate them more. When you think about it, defense players rarely get any credit. The goalies do when they play well; the forwards do when they get points. But the most important aspect of hockey in my opinion is being great at transitioning the puck from defense to offense and from offense to defense when puck possession is lost! When head coach Mel Davidson sent me back on D in 2005-2006 leading up to the Torino Olympics, I realized that I had a lot to learn and that it was much tougher than anticipated. But I loved the challenge and I truly believe that it made me a better and more complete forward. It also taught me that in some of those games where the score is uneven, I need to make sure that we are attacking using the D players and that we make them part of our offense. I also would say that coaching also made me a better leader and player. Also an area that players should experience to certainly realize that it is much more time and energy consuming that they think. And that decisions are hard to make without hurting the athlete’s feelings. We, as athletes, tend to forget at times that every coaching decision is made in the best interest of the team. Hope most of my teammates stay in the game as coaches after they retire. I certainly hope I can do so. It’s the most beautiful game in the world!
There was also worth mentioning in the game my idol Vicki Bendus with the hat trick in the victory. I had an ok game, although took 2 penalties in the 2nd period so spent 4 minutes out of 20 in the penalty box. I hate it so very much! Longest, slowest, and most lonely time in the world. I do not think I was guilty of slashing and hooking so it makes it even more frustrating. But as my friends Kim and Pou say… I never seem to think I am guilty of anything! Not that time I promise girls! Sometimes I like to start a sentence with the following words… ‘’ you have a rough game when…’’ Today I would finish that sentence with… when you have more penalty minutes than points! So when the game was over, I thought ‘’ done and done, moving on’’ thinking that I did not care to remember any specific parts of it, especially because I do not remember last time I had two penalties in one period. That would have been easier to do except that I was presented with the puck for my 200th points with the National team! Did not expect that at all. But I gladly accepted it feeling very fortunate for this amazing journey I have had on the Canadian team since 1999. What is better than assisting on the goal long time linemate Jayna Hefford for that special occasion. She was my linemate during my first World Championship as a 19 year old in Finland in 1999. Started in Finland, happening again in Finland! Pretty cool! Yes, in 1999, that was the time when I did not speak English at all. Thankfully, linemates Jayna and Vicky Sunohara were very patient with me and helped throughout the tournament. Although, they did not speak much French at the time so I am not sure how we manage to communicate. Wish I could go back and just watch footage of our verbal exchanges! Would be hilarious I am sure! Both Vicky and Jayna got so much better in French as the years went by and that was very awesome for me to see. So did my English I guess, although I did not have much choice if I wanted to survive on this team. Year 1999 is also the year where my idol France St-Louis (before Bendus) played her last World Championship. It was my first; it was her last. We were roommates. She helped me so much to find the confidence I needed to play at that level. What an athlete and leader she was. I miss her so very much and wish I had played all my career with her!
Quick turnaround from last night! We face the U.S. today at 2pm. We played last night at 6pm which means most of us did not go to sleep until past midnight. Not a good combo for a game at 2pm the next day. Especially when it is the U.S. Not an excuse I know but I could feel the energy level of the girls at the pre-game morning active warm-up being not too high. Yet it is pretty easy to get motivated to face our best enemy so when the time came to getting ready for the game, the energy levels were back up, or so it appeared! Let say we got outplayed in every aspects of the game. The one positive note would be that Christina Kessler was outstanding in net! In the same ways she does miracles with her Burlington team in the CWHL. I mentioned we have a young team before and for a few of our players, it was their first game against the U.S. at the senior level. But for all of us, the change of speed is huge comparing to our previous games. The main difference is how little time you have to make decisions. We had a rough 1st period where we appeared to be on defense mode trying to survive the constant U.S. pressure and speed. We were relieved to go back to the dressing room with the score being 0-0. The 2nd period went downhill as we allowed 4 unanswered goals, 3 of them coming from U.S. power plays. It became obvious that they had worked the same units on the power play before that game. Just the way they moved the puck around was impressive to see. That chemistry came from a lot of work together before that game. We went back to the dressing room after the 2nd down by 4. Yet, the girls refused to give up. The 3rd period was our best period by far and although we were not able to beat American Goalie Molly Shauss, we spent more time in our offensive zone and controlled the puck better. Our coach Dan Church stressed the importance of playing like it was 0-0 and that is how the girls responded. We could feel that we were getting more confident as the game went on. And that single period made us all believe that we could get them back, that we could skate with them and even beat them. But in order to do so, we would all need to be good so the team becomes great!
Nothing better than being able to face the U.S. again the next day when last night’s game is fresh in our memory! The coaches gave us the morning off from practicing or training so I slept until 9:30am and met my Swedish friend Erika Holst for lunch at the Scandic Hotel near by. I played with Erika at Minnesota Duluth my freshman year. Right away she became my best friend and my favorite linemate. Unfortunately, it was her senior year. Thankfully, we won the NCAA National Championship against Harvard in what is still for me, one of the best hockey games I have been part of. 4-3 win in double overtime in Duluth in front of a sold-out crowd of 5,000+ of our fans. Olympians on both teams. A pure game of speed and finesse. So I played only 1 season with Erika and it broke my heart when she and my other linemate, equally as Swedish Maria Rooth, graduated and returned to Sweden! I wept often early in the next season because I missed my friends so much. Interesting how leaving Montreal the year before had never been for one second that hard. I guess I knew right away that going to UMD was the best decision I had made in my life and definitely in my athletic career. But I was not prepared to see my best friends and the ones I spent the whole previous year with move across the ocean. I never realized before that I would never play a game with them again! Against so many times but not with again. Years after, my senior year or the years I coached at UMD, I still got teary eyes when I would stare at our National Champion banner at the roof of our Duluth rink during the anthem. But not sure then if they were so much tears of sadness or more happy tears from the best year of my life. And I could not help it but finally smile from the memories I keep from times we spent together on and off the ice as friends and roommates. Coaching made me experience those same feelings through my players and the friendships and unity they created on our way to the 2008 National Championship title. A bond that forever will be so special. Although it was hard then, now I feel so fortunate to have played in an environment with players from Sweden, U.S., Finland, Russia, and Switzerland. I have friends all over the world because of it. And that makes me a very lucky lady! It was great to catch up with Erika! I had not seen her since last April. But she is the rare type of friends that feels like you saw yesterday and never was separated from. The exceptional and valuable friendship that will last forever. At least, I sure hope so!
Game time! We started the game on fire feeding from last night 3rd period where we gained much confidence. We pressed the Americans hard and kept them in their zone at the beginning of the game. We were gaining momentum from one line to the other. Unfortunately, it seemed that the two times they manage to enter our zone, they were able to score! Actually the same player scored twice in one shift! Hillary Knight from Wisconsin. Arguably one of the best shot and quickest release in the world. Before we could have time to grasp what was happening we were down 2-0. But even more so today, we never gave up. Even better, we always felt we could come back in that game. I could sense it on the bench. We killed 3 penalties in the first period executing beautifully the defensive plan put together by our coach Danielle Goyette. We took away more time and space from them and pressured them harder which was beneficial in defending our territory. We came back in the first period to even up to score to 2-2 and proudly returned to the dressing game feeling like we would have a whole new game starting shortly after. We exchanged each a goal in the 2nd. 3-3 after 2 periods. The first U.S. game was very physical. Little did we know this one would be even rougher. A good comparison would be a Montreal Stars game against the Brampton Thunder in the CWHL but in even faster pace with girls in top class physical conditions. Bodies were flying left and right and it would have been fair to question whether or not body checking was allowed in women’s hockey. There is no one in the world that would say that there were not any physical contacts tonight. I so wish that game could have been on television or online. I think women’s hockey would have benefit greatly from showcasing the level of skills, grittiness, and passion displayed tonight by both teams. After a 5 minute overtime period 4 on 4 where no team manage to create a goal, we went to shootout. Geneviève Lacasse did amazingly well for her first shootout experience with the NWT. Jayna Hefford and Jenn Wakefield scored on nice shots to secure the win! We were all very excited and thrilled about our game. The feeling that you gave it all and that in the end, you won just a few more battles to make a difference. Our best players were the best players. Our young players were fantastic. Something funny happened after the game, whoever was deciding the players of the game for both teams decided that he or she liked both #13 so I met with Montreal Stars teammate Julie Chu at center ice to receive my present. However, I have to be honest and admit that our goalie Gen Lacasse deserved it more and I was happy and relieved when she gladly accepted the gift! I’ll have to check what it is tomorrow. Hopefully not a $1,000,000 cheque! OH WELL! Goodnight!