Their ultimate final destination? St. Catharines, Ont., on Jan. 8, 2016, when the puck drops on the IIHF Ice Hockey U18 Women’s World Championship.
“I think the world championship is always in the back of our mind, both players and the staff,” says Lisa Haley, head coach of Canada’s National Women’s
Under-18 Team. Three games may seem like a small sample size, but the team’s short time together will do wonders come worlds, she says. “Our players are
trying to take care of every detail, to give themselves the best opportunity to show well here. And the coaches are trying to take advantage of every
minute we have with our players to get our plan executed, all with the intention of peaking at worlds.”
For Melody Davidson, general manager of national women’s team programs with Hockey Canada, the series is one more piece of the puzzle. A spring strength
and conditioning camp set the fitness standard; this month’s National Teams’ Summer Showcase focused on player evaluation.
“This is just another step in seeing how players perform under pressure, how they accept roles, how coachable they are and their resilience mentally and
physically to come through the selection camp and still perform here,” says Davidson.
While a trio of wins this week would be nice – Canada leads the all-time series 14-10, including winning the last four series – the success of the players
will not be measured solely on what column they add results to.
“I want to see is their coachability,” says Haley. “It’s such a steep learning curve in short competitions and it’s a higher level than what they typically
play with their club teams.” Everyone has talent, but can they grasp the style of play the coaches want. “If they’re quick learners, they’re probably going
to do really well.”
This is the only chance the coaches will have to work directly with these players. Haley and her staff want to make sure they are put on the right path now
for when they potentially see them again in January.
“We’re trying to help them figure out what their strengths are already and what areas they should pay attention to over the next few months heading into
worlds so they’re increasing what their ceiling is.”
Canada and the United States have met in all eight previous gold medal games at the U18 world championship; each side has four wins to its name. Lindsay
Agnew, Ryleigh Houston and Kristin O’Neill got a taste of that rivalry last year; however, for the other 20 members of the team this week marks a
“For a lot of our players this is their first time wearing our national jersey,” says Haley. “There’s a lot of excitement and anxiety that goes into it. I
think getting over that mental hurdle of finally feeling like they’ve arrived at the national level is great. This series will do two things: it’ll get rid
of the nerves a little bit and it’ll also increase the rivalry heading into the world championship.”
It also helps build that all-important element for success in short-term competitions like a world championship: chemistry. Successful combinations – be it
a defensive pairing, a power play unit or a forward trio – are bound to stand out in the coaches’ minds.
“First and foremost our priority is to pick the very best possible team,” says Haley, “but certainly chemistry that can develop between smaller groups on
the ice can influence our decisions.”
While this week’s roster in no way sets in stone the one that will represent Canada in January, history has shown there will be little turnover. Last year
17 of the 20 skaters who played in the series made the worlds roster. In 2013, only one new player came on board.
So do the players who’ve come to Lake Placid have a leg up for St. Catharines?
“You would have to think so because they’ve got more time in this environment,” says Haley. But a strong camp with 42 players at the beginning of the month
proved that future decisions will be difficult and reinforcements are waiting should a player fail to make an impact, says Davidson.
“We don’t know what the turnover will be like,” says Haley, “but we’re excited to evaluate at our own national championship in November and watch the kids
play at the club level. It’ll be the best 23 regardless of what happens this week.”
It’s 27 degrees outside, but for the 23 members of Canada’s National Women’s Under-18 Team, there’s no place they’d rather be than on the ice at the
Olympic Center in Lake Placid, N.Y. This week’s three-game series against the United States is the first stop of what they hope will be a four-month-long