Haley Irwin, player of the game against team USA in her 50th career game

Friday November 11th, 2011

Coming off from a hard fought game against Finland, we knew that playing the USA within 24 hours would be demanding physically. But there is something about playing your greatest rival that makes you forget you are running low on energy. In my opinion that rivalry elevates the caliber of women’s hockey every year. And I am not saying Sweden and Finland are not better, they definitely are. But so are the young players joining team Canada and team USA each year. The speed, strength, skill level just keeps going up and up.

Our game against the U.S. was scheduled at 3:30pm. Our day started with a 9:30am breakfast. We then left for the rink for a dryland off-ice session. I have to say that I was feeling a bit tired this morning. We did some mobility work with our strength and conditioning coach Adam Douglas. Then an active warm-up with some core to finish. By then, I felt reenergized and better. I have enjoyed doing the pre-ice work with Adam and several girls chose to work with him before the games. It has helped me take care of my groin injury and make sure I was taking good care of my preparation. It also allows us to think about our game and our goals without having to focus on which exercises we want to do next. It is also a good time spent as a group where we can have fun together. Adam works at York University and is a strength coach there. After the warm-up we played a game of handball and I can say that the girls get very competitive! I am proud to say that my team came on top with an overtime win!

We went back to the hotel for a short period of time. Barely enough time to shower and nap for about 45 minutes before pre-game meal! Then we had a pre-game meeting and talked about our keys to success! We talked about playing physical, supporting the puck, communicating, doing the little things well and taking pride in that! In my opinion, the faster the game is, the more important communication is. Not only does it help the player who has the puck but it can also be intimidating to play against because a team that communicates has confidence and want the puck. We then watched an incredible motivational video put together by our video coach Andrew with images from past world championships and Olympic Games. I had goose bumps watching it! I wanted the game to start right there!

At the rink we usually have about 2 hours before the game for our pre-game ritual that consist of taping our sticks, talking strategy, getting treatments, dancing, changing into our warm-up clothes, playing soccer keep-up for some, and doing an off-ice warm-up. Then comes the 20 min on-ice warm-up and that is really when you find out how your legs are feeling. But the most interesting thing is that I have before felt great in warm-up and yet had a bad game and the opposite also happened. So I have learned that the trick is to not get caught into what happens at that time and avoid being over excited so I can manage my energy for the game. We return to the dressing room for the final words of wisdom from the coaches and then its GAME TIME☺

I played with Hayley Wickenheiser and Nathalie Spooner today and we started the game well putting lots of pressure on the Americans in their own zone. We might have taken a bit too literally the “be physical” aspect taking 3 penalties in the first period. But our penalty kill was great and coach Goyette had prepared us well to defend the dangerous American Power Play. There were no goals in the 1st period and we came back to the dressing room proud of our play. Charlie Labonté was solid in net playing great saves through traffic and stopping a breakaway from Kendall Coyne, one of the smallest yet fastest players in the game. I think that first period was good for our young players who gained confidence as the game went on and realized that they belonged on the team and were plenty good enough to face the Americans! We exchanged goals in the 2nd period with a nice shot from Jayna Hefford from the high slot that beat Jessie Vetter upstairs. Both teams had several good scoring chances. We gave up a shorthanded goal at the end of the second period on an unfortunate turnover where two of our players collided to create a turnover that resulted in a breakaway for Jocelyne Lamoureux. We were in the mix of changing lines. The Lamoureux twin made a breakaway move worth of ‘’TSN highlight of the night’’ and no goalie female or male would have stopped her in my opinion.

Between the periods, we talked about not letting that goal bring us down. We were exactly where we wanted to be… in a close game with the U.S. and we still had 20 minutes to go get the win. It was a very fast pace game with a lot of physical play. Brad Pascall, our Hockey Canada VP is at the tournament with us and he compared the game to an NHL playoff game saying that both team did not give the other any room and that the intensity, physical play and speed was incredible. I would say that every time we play the U.S. both teams play so fiercely every shift and every minute of the game. It is amazing to be part of that intensity! About halfway in the 3rd period, Hayley Wickenheiser beat Jessie Vetter with a nice shot on the rush to put us ahead 2-1. We had a great challenge with less than 5 minutes left where we had to kill another penalty and the girls did an incredible job blocking shots and not giving anything to the Americans. We played very well defensively after our goal and it was great to see the commitment from everyone to be the best we could be defensively to protect our lead. We were 5 on 6 for the last 90 seconds of the game and Agosta, Wakefield and Hefford made great plays that allowed us to have a faceoff in the neutral zone with less than 20 seconds to go. I was able to read a pass from the faceoff and intercepted the puck, made sure I crossed the red line before firing the puck in the empty net. We were proud of our team performance during that first game. We know real well that this game does not matter though and we want to first take care of Sweden tomorrow and hope to see the Americans again for a rematch in the final. That final game will probably have an unreached amount of intensity yet!

Two interesting facts: the game was Haley Irwin’s 50th game with the National team.
The U.S.- Canada matchup was a historic one, marking the 100th time since 1990 that the two women’s hockey rivals have faced off against each other. The win improves Canada’s record to 61-38-1 in 100 games vs U.S. since 1990. As Peter Jensen, our amazing sport psy said, ‘’be thankful for your greatest rivals. They bring the best out of you and they help showcase the finest our sport has to offer.’’ He said: ‘’ you do not want to dance with someone that does not know how to, to make yourself look good; you want to have a great partner so you can both elevate the overall performance. In end, Americans and Canadians have one common goal and that is to get our sport recognized and appreciated so that one day we can dream of having our own professional league.

We are barely halfway through our time in Sweden and I have had already 4 embarrassing moments. The first one is the worst. I went for on-ice warm-up without realizing that I had forgotten to put my Jill on. Sure enough it was in my hockey pants and fell onto the ice. It sure made my teammates laugh. I suggested that maybe I should put it on over my hockey pants for extra protection but dropped the idea and opted to not try to block any shots that game. Joking of course! Then when we arrived here in the city where is held the tournament, instead of writing Nykoping I reversed 2 letters the K and the P for NyPoKing and posted that on facebook and twitter! Seemed to make my Swedish friends laugh! Then during the first practice, I managed to lose my hair elastic about 10 minutes into the 90 minutes practice! I looked for it everywhere on the ice and within my own equipment but there was no trace of it. I practiced with my hair loose and that for sure made my teammates smile! But what’s wrong with that!? Cassie Campbell did it! The difference I guess is she looked good doing it! Of course my elastic fell on the floor in the lockeroom when I took my equipment off afterwards. Lastly I was having my groin rewrapped by our physio Carla between period 2 and 3 of our Finland game. And suddenly drops of sweats left my forehead to land exactly in her face! Not the most fun feeling that’s for sure for both of us! In the embarrassing category also comes my teammate Mélo Daoust whose heating pad almost caught on fire in her hotel room because she did not bring a converter for Europe. Rookie mistake! I guess… can be forgiven, shes only 19!

Day off today! Feeling good to get some rest! Last game of round robin tomorrow against Sweden! We want to keep getting better as a team! During our psy session today we took a moment of silence to remember the ones that have fought and still fight for Canada today. I am so proud to be Canadian! Lest we forget the ones that have dedicated their lives in Canadian armed forces. Today is also my late grandmother Anita’s birthday so I also have thoughts for her. She was an athlete and probably the reason I have some athletic abilities. She came before the time it was acceptable for a girl to do sports, yet she broke down barriers by insisting she would swim and by being great at it. She was a strong woman, no afraid of her opinions and I have always admire that in her. It was heartbreaking for my dad and our family to see her suffering from Alzheimer late in her life. I wish she could see the impact she had on me not only in my love for sports but also in desire to win, improve and battle every chance I get.

Thank you for reading

2 of our great young players: Brianne Jenner and Mélodie Daoust