Ryan says Canada in attack mode heading into women’s worlds
From the outside, it appears Canada has all the momentum on their side heading into the 2023 IIHF Women’s World Hockey Championship.
The reigning Olympic champion and winners of the past two worlds, Canada is bringing an experienced roster to the worlds in Brampton, Ont., with only forward Danielle Serdachny set to make her tournament debut.
But head coach Troy Ryan isn’t buying into the notion the team is defending its gold medal and knows the team has to improve on last year’s performance.
“We would rather just go out and win another world championship and we know we got to get better. What we did in the last world championship isn’t going to be enough to win this one,” Ryan told TSN.ca. “It just always keeps us thinking ahead and pushing forward instead of sitting on our heels and worried about defending.
“I don’t think anybody should want to defend anything. We want to attack and win something.”
The team is fresh off winning the most recent Rivalry Series against the United States. The Canadians erased a 0-3 series deficit, which was capped by a dominant 5-0 win in Game 7.
Serdachny, who plays in the NCAA with Colgate, skated in the Rivalry Series for Games 4 and 5 and played in a role in helping to turn the tide, netting the overtime winner in Game 5. She said moments like Jamie Lee Rattray’s breakaway goal in Game 4 and Sarah Fillier’s power-play goal in Game 5 were critical in rallying the team.
“I think little moments like those, whether it’s goals, a big save, or anything of that sort is important for shifting the momentum, especially when you’re playing down in a series,” said Serdachny.
For much of the 2010s, momentum was largely on the United States’ side. Other than Canada winning Olympic gold in 2014, the Americans dominated in every major tournament, winning five straight gold medals at the worlds and earning Olympic gold in 2018 in PyeongChang, 20 years after winning the first-ever gold in women’s hockey in 1998.
Canada’s ultimate low came in 2019, losing in the semifinal of the worlds to Finland, and settling for bronze for the first time while the United States took home another title.
Ryan was hired in 2019, tasked with getting the program back to the winning ways and ending the coaching carousel that included five different head coaches in a seven-year stretch (2012-19).
The Canadian dressing room used to have photos of all the past winning teams from previous world championships and Olympics hung up on the walls. Part of the process for the current team to move forward included leaving the memories of past dynasties behind.
“I remember we had a conversation once as a group, we’re like, ‘Does anybody feel guilty? The program hasn’t won in about 10 years. Do you walk in that room, and do you look at those pictures and is there guilt? Because if there is, we’re focusing on the wrong things,’” said Ryan.
“So, we deliberately took them down. No disrespect to the past teams, players or coaches but we’ve got to focus on ourselves here a little bit more. That dynasty that’s been created there is not strong enough to carry every group through it. So honestly, we just went more internal, focused on ourselves a lot more, focused on collaborating a little bit more, building some trust within our group and then just started having a little more success.
“When you believe you can win instead of being in a 3-2 hockey game thinking you’re going to hold people off. Now [if] we’re down 3-2, we’re like we just got to keep pushing. It’s just a shift in the way you look at things and I think they’ve done a good job.”
For a younger player like Emma Maltais, who made her senior team debut in 2021 and has two worlds golds and an Olympic title on her resume at just 23 years old, she arrived as the cultural change was already underway.
She sees how the veteran leadership group, including the likes of captain Marie-Philip Poulin and Brianne Jenner, has played a big role in establishing a high standard for the rest of the team.
“I didn’t even realize that we won for the first time in however many years until after the game when Jenner came up to us and was like ‘Oh my god, like you guys realize this? This is crazy’ and that feeling is addicting, you’re like, ‘I want that again,’” said Maltais.
“I think we feed off that energy for each other, feed off each other’s stories. Those girls have grinded for so long to get back on top and I think now that we are, we’re so driven to keep that going and for us to keep playing our game and developing our game.”
Ryan admits the team experienced a little bit of a post-Olympic hangover at the worlds last year in Denmark. Unlike the Olympic squad that was an offensive powerhouse en route to gold, the team took on a more defensive posture for success. His ultimate goal is to blend the two styles together.
“After the worlds in Denmark, it got us thinking as a staff, like what if you could ever merge those two?” said Ryan. “Can you be a physical, defensive and greasy-type of team with the offensive confidence that we had at the Olympics?
“That really is our goal moving forward – to find ways to be ready to play any type of game. We want to always dictate it but if we’re injured or short-staffed or we’re not quite at our best, we can bring another game that will still give us success.”