Fast forward to 2021. The team prepares in Nova Scotia for the home-ice Women’s Worlds before going through the same quarantine procedure as the visiting teams. For the first time this season, the players came together only in January due to the pandemic and restrictions for playing and practising. Canada’s powerhouse women’s program held an in-person, on-the-ice training camp in Calgary, bringing together 35 players – six goaltenders, 11 defencemen and 18 forwards. Starting today, 47 players will start the next camp in Halifax.
Brianne Jenner, a Canadian veteran of two Olympic Winter Games and six Women’s Worlds, says this camp reminded her of her early days with Team Canada. She was nervous heading in, not really knowing what to expect, saying she “got the butterflies”. But once she was at camp with her friends, coaches, support staff, the energy level and excitement was through the roof.
“Everyone is so grateful to be here. Obviously it’s not how we thought it would go … no athlete in the world wanted this to go and we hoped we could get past this pretty quickly,” says Jenner, who helped Canada win Olympic gold in 2014 in Sochi, Russia. “We’re so excited to be here. We kind of took that approach all year. We stayed in contact, we had weekly Zoom calls with our program and took that time to work with skills coaches and helped build that identity so that, when we got back on the ice together, we weren’t starting from scratch. That’s been our attitude from the get-go, to look at the silver linings and hopefully we won’t have to keep looking for silver linings, get to the tournament this year and get back to normal.”
Gina Kingsbury is the Director, National Teams (women’s) with Hockey Canada. Kingsbury, a former player in the program, says more than 400 COVID-19 tests were performed between the two teams during the camps (the para hockey team practised as well) in January, with all coming back negative.
Kingsbury was taken aback by everyone’s energy and just the sheer thrill to be back doing what they all love to do – skate, pass, shoot, compete.
“The energy was extremely high from the start to finish,” says Kingsbury. “What impressed me the most of camp is that energy never dwindled or changed. What I noticed too was the gratitude from people. We went back to the basics of the love of the game that we all have. That did not change from the 15 days we were together, it never reduced, it never lacked; it was always front and centre, the sheer gratitude and happiness that we had to be together. To simply play hockey and to compete.
“It’s something I wouldn’t say we take for granted in a normal time, but maybe we do a little. We saw just how passionate we are of the game and what the game means to us.”
You hear athletes talk a lot about what they can control versus what they can’t, about being prepared for whatever is to come. But COVID-19 has really forced athletes to do this more than ever. Jenner was impressed with the shape that her teammates were in at camp, saying everyone was prepared to work.
Jenner adds there is work to do. When you’re not together for an entire year, it’s going to take some time. She says that after a break of 11 months not everything was perfect.
“But during our first game for 11 months off, we were pretty happy with the pace, the physicality, just the creativity that we saw. We’re pretty confident that all of that stuff that comes with game situations, all of that will come with time. We’re happy about how people showed up, in shape and ready to go. It’s only going to continue to get better,” she says.
Following training camps in January and March, the last pre-event camp starts today and will be used to determine the final roster. The camp will include three intrasquad games in a secure self-isolation environment that is closed to the public.
“The past year has been very difficult for our athletes, coaches and staff, but we have persevered and continued our preparation for the IIHF Women’s World Championship one year later than expected,” says Kingsbury.
“We are grateful to the province and Nova Scotia Public Health, who worked with us to ensure we are able to hold our camp in a secure environment. Our athletes have never wavered in their preparation, both on and off the ice, and we expect a high-tempo and spirited camp as we select the team that will give us the best chance to compete for a gold medal on home ice.”
The 2021 IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship in Halifax and Truro will be played from 6 to 16 May 2021.