After months of Zoom calls, virtual video sessions, planning, re-planning
and re-re-planning, it’s finally time for Canada’s National Women’s Team to
get on the ice.
Forty-seven of the nation’s best have earned invites and 35 players will be
on the ice for the BFL National Women’s Team Training Camp, presented by
Sobeys, which gets started this week at the Hockey Canada home base at
WinSport’s Canada Olympic Park.
The COVID-19 pandemic has wreaked havoc on the season schedule, pushing
what would have been the annual season-opening Fall Festival held in
September into the early weeks of 2021.
But while the month might be different, the approach will be the same.
“I don't think anything changes from our normal Fall Festival camp,” says
Troy Ryan, who is returning for his second season as head coach of Canada’s
National Women’s Team. “A big part of this camp is [creating] a good touch
point with the athletes. But one of the main reasons you have this camp at
the front end of your year is for player evaluation, so to get an
opportunity to get the players best-on-best in a competitive environment is
going to be very valuable for us down the road.”
And it’s going to be an awfully short road.
The 2021 IIHF Women’s World Championship, set for Halifax and Truro, N.S.,
is scheduled to open on April 7. That leaves less than three months for
Ryan, director of women’s national teams Gina Kingsbury and the rest of the
staff to select the roster and have it ready to go for gold on home ice.
For Ryan, though, the only piece of the puzzle missing this season has been
the on-ice component. While the pandemic has made it impossible to gather
in person as a full team, it has meant an added focus on the off-ice side.
“We have regular athlete calls,” he says. “Sometimes the conversation can
be around mental performance, sometimes it's strength and conditioning,
sometimes it's a hockey-specific video session. But we really dive in deep
into our culture and the environment we want to create with this group, so
I think that's been valuable. And I think the Zoom sessions have just
mirrored what we'd want to do if we were together as a group, so there has
been a social aspect and a team-building aspect, as well.”
The head coach is also buoyed by the fact most of his players have been
skating together for months in one of three Canadian hubs organized by the
Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association (PWHPA) – in Calgary,
Montreal and Toronto – while another handful are getting their reps south
of the border with their NCAA teams.
At the end of the day, the approach by Ryan and his staff is no different
than most who are working their way through the pandemic and the
unprecedented challenges it has created – focus on the things you can
control and take advantage of any opportunities you have.
“It's a true test of all the things that we've always emphasized as
coaches,” Ryan says. “This pandemic has really made us put some of those
thoughts and beliefs into action. We can get caught up in what we're not
able to do and what’s out of our control, so I think right now our main
focus has just been dialing in on what we can control. Our connection with
the athletes has been good. It feels real. Although we've been forced into
this situation with having online calls, we've managed to make them
legitimate and valuable calls.
“As much as there's a ton of negative around the pandemic, there have been
some positives. And things that we've been able to control – the planning,
the finer details of running the program – I think we've done a good job of
that. We're in a good position heading into this camp.”