Pounder breaks down Team Canada's roster heading into Beijing Olympics
The Canadian women’s hockey team is ready to reclaim gold.
Hockey Canada announced on Tuesday the 23-player roster that will compete for gold at next month’s Beijing Olympics. Thirteen players are returning from the team that took home silver at the 2018 PyeongChang Games.
Among the returnees is captain and four-time Olympian Marie-Philip Poulin, who scored the game-winning goals that clinched gold at both the 2010 and 2014 Olympics along with the overtime winner at the 2021 IIHF Women’s World Championship in Calgary last August.
“It’s hard to put into words, to be honest. It’s bigger than yourself,” said Poulin about representing Canada.
“It’s going to be a tough next month for us but we’re really looking forward to it. I think we’ve had fun all year long and we’re just going to keep going, especially with that jersey on. It’s an honour for all of us.”
All but one of the players (defenceman Micah Zandee-Hart) also won gold for Canada at last year’s women’s worlds.
The team will be led by head coach Troy Ryan, who also coached the team to gold at last year’s worlds, and Gina Kingsbury, the director of Canada’s women’s national team.
“It’s been tremendous, the amount of growth for our entire group, not just our rookies but also some of our vets are playing the best hockey that I’ve ever seen them play,” said Kingsbury. “I think that’s an attribution to our head coach and our coaching staff.”
Canada begins the tournament on Feb. 2 in a Group A game against Switzerland. All Group A teams (Canada, United States, Switzerland, Finland and ROC) will automatically qualify for the quarter-finals. The gold-medal game is scheduled for Feb. 16 (11 p.m. ET).
The team is currently stationed in Calgary and will remain in a bubble before they depart for Beijing on Jan. 26, where they will also enter a controlled environment.
Let’s take a closer look at the team that will by vying to retake the top of the podium.
Ten of the 13 forwards won silver for Canada at PyeongChang, leaving three newcomers: Sarah Fillier, Jamie Lee Rattray and Emma Maltais.
Fillier has been Canada’s breakout star. She finished in the top 10 in tournament scoring with six points in seven games at last year’s worlds and developed great chemistry with veterans Mélodie Daoust and Natalie Spooner on the “Fill Da Spoon” line, where the three combined for 27 points. Fillier continued that success into the Rivalry Series, where she recorded five goals.
“It’s something I’ve been working towards since watching the Canadian women play in 2018,” Fillier said. “It was a really special moment.”
While Daoust had a relatively quiet series against the U.S. with just two assists in six games, she will be a player to watch in Beijing. She was the MVP, top forward and top scorer at last year’s worlds, and was also named Most Valuable Player of the tournament at the PyeongChang Games.
Daoust has had great chemistry with Poulin over the years, but Ryan has seemingly found a new top line combination of Poulin, Brianne Jenner and Emily Clark.
Poulin and Jenner have been on the same line since the worlds, where they recorded the most ice time among Canadian forwards. Clark was moved to the top line during a strong centralization camp and looked at home there in the latter games of the Rivalry Series, finishing with six points in six games.
As always, all eyes will be on Poulin, who not only scored the golden goal and the worlds but also back-to-back overtime winners in the final two games of the Rivalry Series. But Canada’s roster boasts several unsung heroes as well.
Blayre Turnbull had to work her way back after breaking her leg during the gold-medal celebration at the worlds. She can play tough minutes, is relentless on the puck and often gets under the skin of opponents.
Rebecca Johnston is another player completing a comeback after being left off the roster for the 2020 world championship (which was ultimately cancelled due to the pandemic) and then suffering an Achilles injury. She and Poulin are the only four-time Olympians on the current roster.
Rattray, a first-time Olympian, averaged under 10 minutes of ice time at the worlds but made the most if it, recording four goals on 17 shots, including the tying marker against the Americans in the gold-medal game.
Maltais has been used sparingly by Ryan since the worlds but has been impactful, especially on the penalty kill, where she is tenacious on the puck. She adds versatility with the ability to play centre.
Among the more surprising final cuts is Victoria Bach, who at 25 is one of Canada’s young offensive stars and boasts speed and skill. She played much of the worlds on the top line with Poulin and Jenner but struggled to find consistency, finishing with two assists.
Kingsbury would not comment about decisions involving specific players, but said the staff was impressed with all 29 athletes who were invited into centralization.
“The decisions were difficult for all of them. They all put forth their best foot. They definitely showed us what they can bring to the team,” she said. “But as we always said, we would build the best possible team that we felt… would give us the best odds of winning a gold medal. I think we could have probably named 15 different puzzles with the 29 athletes that we had.”
Canada is bringing seven defencemen to Beijing, a change from 2018 when the team had six blueliners and 14 forwards. Only two are returnees from PyeongChang: the top pair of Jocelyne Larocque (who will be playing in her third Olympics) and Renata Fast.
Larocque and Fast will once again be counted on to log heavy minutes for Canada and to contend with the toughest opposition. Fast finished tied with teammate Erin Ambrose for second in scoring among defencemen at last year’s worlds with five points. Larocque led Canada in ice time with more than 22 minutes per game and recorded almost 30 minutes in the overtime win against the U.S. in the gold-medal game.
After being among the cuts for the 2018 PyeongChang roster, Ambrose is set to make her Olympic debut.
“It’s something that I’ve been working on for many, many years,” Ambrose told TSN during the worlds. “I’ve been in the program now for 11 years and I think in that sense, this is something that I’ve really been dreaming for and striving for.”
Besides the top pair, Canada’s defensive core is relatively inexperienced, with four players under 25 (Ashton Bell, Ella Shelton, Claire Thompson and Micah Zandee-Hart). But all except Zandee-Hart won gold with Canada at last August’s world championship (Zandee-Hart missed the tournament due to injury).
Thompson in particular saw a heavy workload at the worlds, her first major tournament. Her 18:54 TOI was the fourth highest on the team, behind only veterans Larocque, Fast and Ambrose. Shelton saw less time on the third pair (14:32) but with her 24th birthday just over a week away, she is definitely a part of this team going forward.
Bell featured the least among Canada’s defencemen at the worlds (11:53), and only five skaters for Canada were on the ice less. But in the end, Bell won out over veteran Meaghan Mikkelson, the 37-year-old three-time Olympian.
Mikkelson had fought her way back into contention after reconstructive knee surgery. She played in two Rivalry Series games and looked strong in her return to the ice, but she may have simply run out of time. With the last three games of the Rivalry Series cancelled due to concerns around COVID-19, Mikkelson may not have had sufficient opportunities to show Ryan and Kingsbury enough to crack the roster.
The Canadian goaltenders were all but locked in with the same trio being on the roster since the worlds: Ann-Renée Desbiens, Emerance Maschmeyer, and Kristen Campbell. Desbiens served as backup to Shannon Szabados at the PyeongChang Games, while Maschmeyer and Campbell are both first-time Olympians.
While Campbell looked strong in her senior team debut – a 8-0 win over Finland in November – the battle for the No. 1 spot will be between Desbiens and Maschmeyer.
Desbiens carried the workload for Canada at the world championship, starting in five games and recording a 1.37 goals-against average and .908 save percentage.
But Desbiens and Maschmeyer were used evenly in the six games of the Rivalry Series, each posting a 2-1-0 record. Desbiens holds a slight edge in goals-against average (1.63) compared to Maschmeyer (1.95), but she also struggled at times with playing the puck.
Maschmeyer has worked her way back to the Canadian crease after not being centralized in 2018. Goaltending coach Brad Kirkwood told TSN in August that Maschmeyer’s technical skillset is “one of the best in the game.”
CANADA’S 23-PLAYER ROSTER FOR BEIJING 2022
GOALTENDERS: Ann-Renée Desbiens, Emerance Maschmeyer, Kristen Campbell
DEFENCE: Jocelyne Larocque, Renata Fast, Ella Shelton, Ashton Bell, Erin Ambrose, Micah Zandee-Hart, Claire Thompson
FORWARDS: Rebecca Johnston, Laura Stacey, Sarah Fillier, Jill Saulnier, Mélodie Daoust, Brianne Jenner, Sarah Nurse, Natalie Spooner, Emily Clark, Emma Maltais, Marie-Philip Poulin, Blayre Turnbull, Jamie Lee Rattray