Here we are… already at the final day of the 4 Nations Cup with ahead our strongly desired match-up with the Americans. Our day starts with the breakfast of champions. I love food. No its more I LOVE eating! You see I think about my dinner while I am having my lunch. That is how obsessed I am about food. I wonder if I eat to train or more train to eat! Sometimes I even consider going to cooking school. I know that this food addiction will not give me any other choice than to stay active in my after career or I might have some weight problems! Helps that I love to train I guess! Hope I never lose that passion! For my own health sake. The food here has been heavenly. For me at least! Perhaps not all my teammates have this opinion! But the choices have been incredible at every meal. The salad bar includes couscous with lentils, tuna salads not overwhelmed with mayo, smoked salmon, cheeses, lovely beans salads. The main dishes have been great with flavorful fish and tender chicken, tasty meatloaf and pork. But the best of all is the breakfast! Wow! Scrambled, soft or hard boiled eggs, cheese, ham, turkey, fruits, crepes, breads, oatmeal, flax seeds, nuts, freshly pressed OJ! Only the food itself has made me so thankful I came to this tournament ☺ Cannot believe what I almost missed! Ok enough about me talking about food! As you can see I am obsessed and people around me will tell you I can be annoying talking about food!
So after our breakfast we went to the rink for our final dryland session with Adam. Legs were heavy at first from last night’s game against the Swedes. Thankfully I had received a nice massage from Andrea, our massage therapist who worked crazy hours for 10 days straight! And also a not as nice acupuncture treatment from Carla, our therapist. Carla has spent a lot of time with me taping me and retaping me over the course of the tournament! 3 groin tapings in the final itself because I had to use the bathroom between periods! Very thankful for her doing an amazing job each time! Our last activation was good! And I could sense that the girls were focused and thinking about the game ahead. Either that or they were tired and quiet! I like to think that it’s the first option! After finishing some speed work, we had our final handball match-up keeping the same teams from the 2 first contests. Series was tied at one and the hype about this final duel was real! Incredible how competitive we all are in every aspect of our lives. It was a close battle but our team lost by one goal. We returned to the hotel for a quick shower and even quicker(it felt), nap. I like to use this time with my earplugs to find peaceful silence and think about my objectives for the game. I try to visualize good plays in previous games and think about plays that might be able to create scoring chances. I review in my head team systems like penalty kill, dzone coverage, forecheck. We all have different ways to prepare. For my roommate Laura Fortino, this mean watching NHL highlights of goals. I watched the video Andrew put together for the first USA game several times yesterday. Not only do I love the images I also love the words from the clip. Even before the game while I was dressing I listened to the video in only one ear so I could still be aware of my surroundings because I needed to hear the powerful words in the video. Then my stall neighbor Vicki Bendus started watching the video on my ipod so I offered her the other earphone. We both listened to the video one last time. Those are the words I loved:
‘’If you see an opening tear into it. If you have a shot at victory make dam sure you take it. Seize that moment. The only thing, the only thing you can count on, on any given moment is you. It’s you versus them; you versus NO; you versus can’t; you versus next year; or last year; statistics; excuses. Clock is ticking; lets see what you’ve got!’’ Powerful no!? Caro LOVES!
Coach Dan spoke before the game about winning the battles, communicating, being physical, managing the puck. And lastly and more importantly, having fun and enjoying the moment. This is what competition is about. This game is what we train for. There are hundreds of girls in Canada that would give anything to have that opportunity to face the Americans in a meaningful game. We are the lucky ones, the few privileged to represent our country. Dan said there are only two ways of representing your country… the first of the greatest magnitude and consequence is enrolling with our armed forces. The second is in my opinion the easier, less stressful one, is to be an athlete on a Canadian team. I had never thought about it that way… and it did make me feel grateful to have that honor. I felt ready for the final to start, ready to go try my best to be a difference in that game.
Unfortunately, we did not start the game as well as we had hoped with the Americans capitalizing on one of their first scoring chances turning a 3on4 into a perfect play that led to Kelli Stack’s goal. That was only 1:10 into the game. A bit of a downer to be honest. The game was physical from the start with the referee not calling much early on. That led to some frustrations on our part with 2 of our best players receiving 10 minutes misconducts in the game. I have to admit that I am often one who can lose control of my emotions and I have to work very hard personally to not do so. The last thing you want to do is to lose your focus by focusing on things you cannot control. The referees being the easiest one to disagree with. Or an opponent giving a nasty blow or a player embellishing to put the other team in the penalty box. Unfortunately both of these happen and I am never going to think that they don’t happen both ways. I just try real hard to not be either of those players. The good news is that despite 16 minutes of penalty in the first we manage to come back to the dressing room only trailing by one goal. We did allow 22 shots in the process which is a lot but Shannon Szabados was up for the challenge and made several key saves to keep us in the game.
Between periods we talked about controlling our emotions and doing a better job on the backcheck. We had to find a way to get more shots on the American goalie and hold on to the puck long enough to create scoring chances or draw penalties. Our second period was much better and we outshot the U.S. 17-8. We drew 2 penalties and our power play created several great scoring chances. We were unlucky at times hitting two posts in the process. With less than a minute left, I passed the puck to Nat Spooner on the rush and she centered it back to me entering the offensive zone. The puck hit the U.S. D and went to the boards. I was able to get there first and moved the puck to Lauriane Rougeau who had rushed to support me nicely. She then went D to D to her D partner Laura Fortino. I was then able to sneak backdoor and was praying Fortino had seen me! I raised my stick but did not want to scream to call attention on me. Fortino and I made eye contact and she made an amazing saucer pass over 2 American sticks right on my blade. I stopped the puck and was able to shoot it almost in an empty net. With 30 seconds to go in the 2nd, the game was now tied to 1! I was very excited about the goal because Fortino and I have been roommates and have had a great time together. In one of the earliest games this tournament, I fed her a nice pass for a scoring chance before she fed me an even better one but the problem is that we had both missed. Fortino had said we will reconnect when it matters! Well I cannot think of a time where it mattered more!
We were proud of our effort after the 2nd period and we wanted to make sure we kept the pressure on in the 3rd. We wanted to stay in the battles and win most of them. Usually the team that does that ends up with the victory. Unfortunately, an early penalty in the 3rd put us on the penalty kill and the Americans were able to score on the power play with a goal from my ex UMD teammate Jenny Potter assisted by Hillary Knight. Once again we stayed into the game and kept believing we could come back again. There was plenty of time left to do so! 6 minutes into the 3rd Wick skated the puck in the offensive zone. After a nice battle from her to keep the puck in the zone, I was able to recuperate the puck along the boards. I tried my best to protect it and started cutting back towards the net. I found an open Nat Spooner in the slot and was able to pass to her and she beat the American goalie with a nice shot that went post and in! We thought once again that this time, it might be our turn to take the lead for once and for all. But three minutes later, the Americans were once again able to convert a 3vs3 situation into a goal with a nice play between Jocelyne Lamoureux and Kelli Stack. Kelli Stack made a very nice deceptive move to cut back across in the slot and get a clear shot at the net. There was nothing Szaby could have done. Still 10 minutes to go in the game and although there was no need to panic yet, we knew that we had to start playing with more urgency. After doing a great job in the penalty kill once again, we were able to come back 5 on 5 to try to create offense. On a breakout I was able to find Wick who supported me well. She then made a nice pass to Nat Spooner on the right wing. Spooner is really great at shooting quickly and she has fast hands so it is hard to know when she is about to release. She used the D as a screen and beat the U.S. goalie with a nice low shot blocker side. Once again we felt the happiness of tying the game. This time with less than 5 minutes to go.
It started to smell more and more like overtime! We finished the game 4on4 but no team was able to take advantage of the space to create a scoring chance. We had ahead of us only 10 minutes of 4on4 sudden death left and shootouts if needed. It was clearly time to empty the tank and leave everything we had left on the ice. Early in the overtime I made a small mistake mishandling the puck along the board. It created an odd player rush for the Americans and one of our players had to take a penalty on the play after Szaby made two amazing saves. I did not feel too great about it. But I guess that’s what hockey is all about. You make great plays; then you make bad decisions. And it can go from one to the other so quickly. As I matured I was able to not let mistakes affect me as much mentally. I am not saying it is easy but I try to remind myself to stay in the present and focus on the future. I use a trick given by my Captain for years, Cassie Campbell, if I don’t like one of my shifts I take a sip of water and spit it out. By doing so, my mistake comes out with it and after that I am not allowed to think about it again. This of course would be my perfect state of mind. I wish I was always able to forget so easily. Thankfully we killed the penalty 3vs4. I went out with Rebecca Johnson and she made a great block shot to prevent a good look at the net. We were able to ice the puck shortly after. Both teams exchanged a couple scoring chances and both goalies were solid.
I believe that most players would prefer to play the game until there is a goal. A team game like hockey becomes in my opinion an individual game (or the game of a few) when we go to shootouts. Our 3 shooters were in that order: Jayna Hefford, Mélodie Daoust and Hayley Wickenheiser.
The Americans shot first with Kelli Stack finding a way to just squeeze a puck between Szaby’s legs. Jayna went 1st for us and she made one of the nicest goals I have ever seen in a shootout. Probably about 3 fakes and a sudden change of direction at the end left the goalie on one side and her on the other. It was amazing! Both Kessel and Daoust were not able to score in the 2nd round. Daoust, 19 years old, was the youngest player on our team. Despite her young age, I would have without a doubt put her in the shootout too if I had been the coach. She is just fantastic at that aspect of the game. I have not seen her miss a lot in my career. And I am so proud of her for attempting a spinorama because she has all the skills to make a move that has a high degree of difficulty. She had beaten the goalie. She was just unlucky with her finish with the puck slipping from her stick blade. Mélo plays with some magic and I wish for her to never lose that edge. That is what makes her so special. She was very sad after the game but I tried to make her realize that we all had chances to win the game many times earlier. She cannot think that she is responsible for the loss. I have been one to miss in shootouts before and it is for sure not a pleasant feeling. But you want to be that player that the coaches and teammates trust to have the puck on your stick in those situations. Sometimes it goes your way, sometimes the goalie just makes the better play. Knight shot 3rd for the U.S. and with a very hard and precise shot, she beat Szabados between the legs. We had to score to stay alive. Wick went down and chose to shoot but Vetter made a nice save to end the game.
The interesting fact is you know what I thought about just seconds before the shootout started!? ‘’In 8 minutes this team will either be extremely happy or very disappointed.’’
Yet I could not shake the feeling that even if we had won, I would not have been satisfied with our performance. Bottom line is, the American team had better scoring chances than we did. They created more for one another. They moved the puck better, transitioned quicker, seemed more skilled one on one. I am proud that we never gave up. That we stayed in the game, stayed in the battle, that we believed we could come back in the game each time. That we never panicked. I loved the fact that the girls really seemed like they wanted the win above everything else; above individual gratification and reward. Willingly sacrificing to block shots and taking and giving physical contacts.
But the truth is that Shannon Szabados was our best player making 52 saves. What if Shannon had been only good today and not great!? What if the American goalie had been the best player in the game!? I am afraid the scoring chances we created might not have been enough to even have a close game. Both games against the U.S. we were outshot and in my opinion ‘’outchanced’’. We, the players, spoke briefly in the locker room after the game. I am 32 years old, I am well aware that leading up to Sochi if I can improve by 1 or 2% that would be amazing! After 30, you can perfect your skills but you cannot make a huge improvement like the young players might be able to make. The first time I was centralized in 2001, I probably improved by 10-15%. Yes we had a young team at the tournament but I refuse to use this as an excuse. We each need to use the motivation from that loss to get better individually. To improve our individual skills, our shooting and our passing. Because when comes Worlds in April 2012, we want to win for the first time in 4 Worlds Championships. The Americans are fueled by a powerful vengeance instinct created by 3 loses in a row at the Olympic Games. That’s what makes them so dangerous. And I only know this feeling because we had it leading up to the 2002 Olympic final after 8 losses in a row to the U.S.; and during the 2010 Olympic year after 2 losses at Worlds. We cannot wait for centralization year to try to catch up. It needs to happen now. It needs to happen within each of us wherever we are. For our sole purpose as athletes representing Canada is not enough to want to be part of the team, we must strive to be the best above everything else.
Thank you for reading!
If you are in Montreal on November 19th, please join the Montreal Stars for our annual breast cancer fundraiser game when we face Boston at 3pm at Etienne Desmarteau. 11 Olympians on the ice. You will be able to witness first hand that Canada-U.S. rivalry. I promise you will not be disappointed!