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Wickenheiser, Hefford lead Canada into women's worlds

The Canadian Press

3/18/2013 3:11:23 PM

Hayley Wickenheiser says a knee injury that kept her out of the Canadian university women's hockey championship final will not prevent her from playing in the upcoming women's world championship.

Canada's all-time leading scorer was among the 23 players named Monday to the roster for the 2013 women's world championship April 2-9 in Ottawa.

Canada is the defending champion after beating the host U.S. in overtime in last year's final in Burlington, Vt.

Wickenheiser "tweaked" her knee in the CIS semifinal March 9 while playing for the University of Calgary Dinos.

She was unable to play the following day in a 3-2 loss to the University of Montreal in the championship game.

"If it was the Olympic gold-medal final, I think I would have played, but I just couldn't take a risk with world championships coming up," the Canadian team captain said Monday.

"I just didn't feel 100 per cent safe at that moment. I tried, but I couldn't risk it."

The forward from Shaunavon, Sask., said she skated Monday and will join her Canadian teammates for pre-tournament preparation March 26 in Pembroke, Ont.

"It was a minor injury I needed a little bit of time with, but I'll be good to go for camp," Wickenheiser said.

Dan Church coached Canada to victory in Burlington last year. He'll be behind Canada's bench again both in Ottawa and at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.

Along with scout Melody Davidson, Church chose the Canadian team for Ottawa. The 28 players invited to try out for the Olympic team will be named shortly after the world championship.

"The decision was based on their collection of work over last year and this year and these just happened to be the players who have performed the most consistently and have earned the opportunity," Church said.

"I think that's a good thing leading into the world championships and then moving towards centralization next year. This is their time to perform."

Canada's roster for Ottawa is virtually identical to the victorious 2012 team with one exception.

Two-time Olympian Sarah Vaillancourt of Sherbrooke, Que., is back on the team after an extended absence due to a hip injury and hernia surgery.

Vaillancourt bumped forward Vicki Bendus of Wasaga Beach, Ont., from the world championship squad.

"I'm extremely happy to see Sarah Vaillancourt back on the team," said Caroline Ouellette, who scored the overtime winner against the U.S. last year.

"She has worked so hard to get healthy again. I'm sure it was a really hard decision for the coaching staff to cut one player from last year's team. It is very sad because you can't really find anyone that works harder than Vicki Bendus. I know she'll be back, she'll keep working really hard and she'll get a chance for the Olympics next year."

Wickenheiser and Jayna Hefford will play in their 12th world championship and Ouellette her 11th in Ottawa, which was the site of the first women's world tournament in 1990.

Canada opens April 2 against the U.S. at Scotiabank Place.

Switzerland, last year's bronze medallist, and Finland is also in Canada's group. Sweden, the Czech Republic, Germany and Russia round out the world championship field.

Canada's roster is heavier on players out of the five-team Canadian Women's Hockey League and lighter on college and university players than in other years.

"There was a wave people who graduated all in the same year," Church explained. "That's why we're seeing so many.

"The CWHL provides a great opportunity for players to continue their careers. Our veterans who have played in that league for many years continue to have opportunities to get better and have quality competition."

Of the 17 CWHL players on the Canadian team, 15 are vying for the Clarkson Cup starting Wednesday in Markham, Ont.

The Canadian women haven't played in a world championship on home ice since winning gold in 2007 in Winnipeg.

The Americans beat Canada in three straight world championship finals after that, although the Canadian women prevailed for gold at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver.

"Our favourite place to play is in Canada," Hefford said. "We know we have that support and a lot of people will talk about the pressure of it, but I think that's something we relish and we love that sort of pressure and expectation of us to win."

Canada's women will play a Junior B men's team March 28 in Petawawa and Sweden on March 30 in Pembroke as part of their pre-tournament preparation.