A different Canada
by Andrew Podnieks|16 FEB 2022
Canada's Jocelyne Larocque and Natalie Spooner enter the ice.
photo: Andrea Cardin / HHOF-IIHF Images
There’s something going on with Team Canada these days. There’s a confidence, a self-awareness, even a little swagger. This is a different team from the past. It started with winning gold in Calgary at last year’s Women’s Worlds, and it has continued through the first five games of the Olympics. But what exactly is it? And how did it get here? Let’s try to figure that one out.

The Roster
Coach Troy Ryan made some changes to the roster last year. A few of them, actually. And those changes were based on speed and skill, with an accent on youth. It was a calculated determination to change, rather than to stay the same and improve with what he had. 

Ann-Renee Desbiens
The goalie was finally given a real shot, and she ran with it. She had played at the women’s U18 in 2011 and then went to Wisconsin for four years of NCAA hockey. Desbiens played in the 2015 Women’s Worlds gold-medal game, gave up four goals in the opening period and was pulled, and pretty much vanished. She got into one game in PyeongChang, but Emerance Maschmeyer played in the 2016 gold game and Shannon Szabados in 2017 and 2018. Canada didn’t even make the gold game in 2019—for the first time ever—but it was Genevieve Lacasse who won the bronze. Desbiens retired and returned, and earned the starter’s role at last year’s WW where she was a perfect 5-0 and took the team to gold to call her own. Her superb play against the Americans last week in the round robin has made her the clear number one now.

The Fillier Factor
There is no timetable for development. Some players are stars at 18, some at 25. As it turns out, Canada has benefitted from the emergence from the shadows of youth of Sarah Fillier. Still only 21, she is the clear “best player in the world” of the very near future. She showed signs of brilliance at last year’s Women’s Worlds and in Beijing her confidence and performance has been other-worldly. She has a great shot, great vision, great skating ability. MVP? She’s in the discussion at the very least.

The Power Play
You want to lose a hockey game? Easy. Take a few penalties against Canada. The team is converting their chances at a ridiculous clip of 50 per cent. Half. In 20 chances, they’ve scored 10 times. And those ten goals have been scored by eight players, so the talent is laid out thick, and both PP units have contributed. This is no accident. Defender Jocelyne Larocque was only too happy to wax poetic on their efforts after the team’s quarter-finals win over Czechia: 

“Our power play has been great all tournament,” she explained. “It's definitely been a priority this year. We're creating a lot of opportunities, and we have a shot mentality. I think when you have that shot mentality people are trying to block those shots and then it opens up. We definitely worked on it a lot, and it's something that we're definitely proud of. At the World Championship it was pretty good, but in the fall we just still worked on it, and it's getting better and better. But we prioritize it. We put a lot of time and effort in it.
Before every game, we have a power-play and PK meeting. So even though both of our special teams are going really well, you can still make adjustments and make tweaks. We're definitely not satisfied.”

Yes, Canada has been scoring goals at a crazy pace, but the North American teams have always been able to score goals. Again, this year is different—and it’s no fluke. Keeping the golden goal in mind, and working off that WW win last year, Canada has made a point of being more creative, and with that have come the goals.

“It was a good start to the season in August,” said captain Marie-Philip Poulin, “but, honestly, we have had 2018 in the back of our heads, that Olympic medal. It's there; it's our goal. We go one day at a time. The girls are so dialed in. They're ready to come to work day in and day out. They're ready to push each other. And that's been something I've been so proud of to see these girls that want to get better and want to be on top. That is a prop to our coaches that have been finding ways to create more offence, and we've been dialed right in. We've been listening to them, and we've been managing and trying to do that work. And I think that's a true testament to our coaching staff, doing a lot of video showing us different ways to create offence. I think it has showed this tournament.”

Larocque concurred. “What I think drives the offense is the openness to try new things. We don't have any fear of making mistakes. I think in the past we were a little bit fearful of that. And honestly, this environment that Troy Ryan, our coaches, Gina Kingsbury, have set out is an environment where people can be creative, within structure. People aren't scared to make mistakes. And that's why there's so many good things happening in the O-zone because people are reading plays, and they're not thinking too much and they're not gripping their stick. It's a mentality change, and it's something where we've established our way of being a team where we're really hard to play against. So, we're super solid defensively, and we take a lot of pride in playing the body, being strong on our sticks, things like that. But then on the offence, it's like there's structure, but there's a ton of creativity. It's a huge change in our culture and our program, and it's really exciting to be a part of.”

Micah Zandee-Hart
The first British Columbian to play for Canada’s women’s team at the Olympics, Zandee-Hart was a late cut for PyeongChang, but she didn’t give up. From the time she graduated from the WW18 level in 2015, she didn’t play another IIHF event until 2019, and last year she was unable to attend camp for the 2021 WW. She is now 25 and brings that combination of youth and experience. She has four assists in Beijing and is averaging more than 17 minutes of ice time.