THAT’S A WRAP: Winter camp ends with shot at U.S.

 

Canadian women feeling good about their chances at worlds

 
 
 
 
Canada's national women's hockey team member Meaghan Mikkelson.
 

Canada's national women's hockey team member Meaghan Mikkelson.

Photograph by: Julie Oliver, Ottawa Citizen

The candidates for the team that will represent Canada in April’s women’s world championship left Ottawa so buoyed by their weeklong winter camp that veteran Meaghan Mikkelson was moved to make a bold — some might say rash — prediction: The United States doesn’t stand a chance.

That should get things going.

“I think that they push us and we push them,” Mikkelson, a member of the national team since 2007, said on Friday. “But I still think that when we play the way we can, they can’t stay with us.

“I think our forwards are too skilled, our (defence) is too solid, and our goaltending is unbelievable.

“And I think we focus on bringing our A game, because if we do bring that game, they can’t beat us.”

Those words are sure to be posted in the U.S. dressing room, but Mikkelson said she’s not bragging, just confident.

Certainly Canada is not unbeatable.

It comes into this championship, here from April 2-9, as defending champion. But before the 2012 worlds, the U.S. had won three straight world championships. It has also won the last two 4 Nations Cups.

So if Canada is confident, said Mikkelson, it also knows there’s a fine line between victory and defeat.

“If we don’t play well, they will beat us, so we need to make sure we play well,” she said. “But that’s what the game of hockey is all about — being able to bring your performance on demand, and that’s what it comes down to whenever we play the U.S.”

Mikkelson, who won a gold in the 2012 Vancouver Olympics, was the top defender at the 2012 worlds in Burlington, Vermont.

A native of St. Albert, Alta., she comes from a distinguished hockey family with defence in its blood.

Brother Brendan was taken 31st overall in the 2005 draft by the Anaheim Ducks and is now a defenceman with the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Father Bill, who was born in Neepawa, Man., played for four seasons in the NHL, but unfortunately owns what is perhaps the league’s most notorious record. With the 1974—75 expansion Washington Capitals, he posted the worst plus-minus record in a single season at minus-82.

Two seasons before, with another first-year team, the New York Islanders, he was minus-54

Since he set the record in 1974-75, no one since has been worse than minus-61.

But the lessons Bill learned as a player became good advice for his children.

“He always talked to us as kids, not just giving us tips on the ice, but talking about the things that were important off the ice,” said Meaghan. “I think he had some regrets from his career, so something he passed along to us was the importance of having a good work ethic, and knowing, when you look back, whether you made it or not, that you did everything you could.

“I was very proud of him growing up. Being able to say your father played in the NHL, not a lot of people can say that.”

Mikkelson was part of a foursome, with Jocelyn Larocque, Bobbi-Jo Slusar, and Tara Watchorn, that travelled the farthest to get to Ottawa for the winter camp. They all came from Calgary, where they play for Team Alberta in the Canadian Women’s Hockey League.

The camp ended Friday morning with a two-hour session from 8-10 a.m., so the players could begin returning home in the afternoon.

It might seem like a lot of effort and expense to bring players to Ottawa for a week of training, but Mikkelson said a lot was accomplished and a solid foundation was built heading into the worlds.

“Hands down, from the beginning of the week until the end of the week, we made huge improvements,” she said. “We don’t get to see each other too often, so when we do, it’s a lot of fun.”

“It’s a lot of work, but I think we really took advantage of every minute we had on the ice together and made huge improvements.”

Coach Dan Church will be picking his team for the worlds in early March. About a month later, after that tournament, he’ll be picking the group of players that will be centralized in Calgary to train for the 2014 Sochi Olympics.

Where the team is at the moment, he’s pleased.

“We’ve asked the players to work hard in a number of areas last year going into the world championship, and coming out of the world championships we felt we had a lot of work to do,” he said. “The good thing is that they’ve all responded and done that work, and I think we’re seeing it in our younger players. They’re continuing to progress their games.

“In the 4 Nations Cup, even though we lost that competition, we saw a lot of good things from our younger group, and we’re seeing it here in this camp that they’ve really taken a step forward.

“So I’m really pleased. There’s still a lot of work to be done, but I think we’re on the right track.”

While veterans such as Mikkelson have the inside track for a spot on the team, no one is making travel reservations yet.

“It is a very important year for all of us, because not only are we trying to make the team for the world championship, we’re trying to earn a spot on the centralization team,” said 33-year-old Caroline Ouellette, a member of the team since 1999. “We know there’s going to be between 26 and 29 players, but we don’t know who yet.

“It’s very competitive within us, because there are so many good players who could make the team.”

 
 
 
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Canada's national women's hockey team member Meaghan Mikkelson.
 

Canada's national women's hockey team member Meaghan Mikkelson.

Photograph by: Julie Oliver, Ottawa Citizen

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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