Sports

Bid for fifth Olympic gold underway for Canadian women's hockey team

CALGARY — Bailey Bram and Shannon Szabados brought their dogs. Emily Clark says she and roommate Genevieve Lacasse have talked about getting a fish.

Their lives will revolve around little else but hockey for the next six months, but the women want to leave a little space in their lives for something that doesn't involve ice and pucks.

The majority of the 28 players invited to try out for the Olympic women's hockey team have relocated to Calgary from other parts of Canada.

After a week of moving, fitness testing and meetings, they'll get on the ice Monday at the Markin MacPhail Centre at Canada Olympic Park.

The 23 players chosen to wear the Maple Leaf in Pyeongchang, South Korea, in February, and chase a fifth straight gold medal, will be selected from this group.

The Olympic hopefuls will be on the ice and in the gym together almost every day and will play upwards of 50 games to determine who makes the team.

"A lot of things that we're doing is really to build a warrior mindset and get our kids being comfortable with being uncomfortable," head coach Laura Schuler said Sunday. "Whenever you are surrounded by uncomfortable situations, you can really grow.

"We're going to be putting our players in different roles, different scenarios to figure out ultimately where are their strengths, so we can make sure they're being fit where they need to be to help us be at our best."

Schuler, assistant coaches Dwayne Gylywoychuk and Troy Ryan and Hockey Canada general manager of national team programs Melody Davidson chose the centralization roster.

They'll ultimately decide — as early as December and as late as Jan. 21 — Canada's 2018 Olympic team.

"I think I've done everything in my power to be prepared for this," said forward Blayre Turnbull from Stellarton, N.S. "I've worked so hard for this over the past two years and I'm as ready as I could be.

"We're going to play 50-plus games which is a lot more games than I've played in the past two years. A little fearful of that, but at the same time, I'm ready for the challenge."

The size of Olympic womens' rosters has been increased from 21 to 23 for 2018, meaning participating countries can carry two more skaters on their rosters than in 2014.

Goaltenders Szabados of Edmonton, Lacasse of Kingston, Ont., and Ann-Renee Desbiens of La Malbaie, Que., already know they're going to Pyeongchang, but will be competing for coveted starts at the Winter Games.

The Canadian women will play six exhibition games against the U.S. as well as a full schedule of games against male midget triple-A teams in the Alberta Midget Hockey League.

Canada faces the U.S. on Oct. 22 in Quebec City's Videotron Centre, with dates of the other five games yet to be announced.

The U.S. has won seven of the last eight world championships beating Canada in overtime in the finals of the most recent two.

Hockey Canada's budget for women's centralization is about $3 million.

Sport Canada funding plus Hockey Canada's living allowance works out to approximately $5,000 a month per player while they're centralized in Calgary.

For those who don't live in Calgary, Hockey Canada paid their moving expenses and provides financial assistance to those who have a mortgage in another city.

They're covered by Hockey Canada's regular player insurance, but Davidson says extra rehabilitation costs are covered. Hockey Canada also covers the costs of sports psychology, nutrition and supplements.

"They have everything they need to help them be the best they can be," Schuler said.

Game tickets and economy-class flights — the American women negotiated business travel with USA Hockey this year — are also provided.

"The funding that we've gotten so far this year is more than we've gotten in the past few years," Turnbull said.

"I think back to my days at (the University of) Wisconsin. We were fortunate to be very spoiled there. We got everything given to us.

"We're getting all that again, but the perk is that I don't have to go to class. It definitely feels like a professional year."

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