VANCOUVER, B.C - It’s no secret that this calendar year has been a challenging time for Canada Women’s Hockey Team.
In February, they lost in the Olympic gold medal game in a shootout. In November, they again fell to to the US at the Four Nations Cup. Two major international tournaments, two silver medals.
Success and momentum seems to have shifted south, as Canada has long been the favourites at the Olympics, Four Nations Cup, and World Championships. Is Team USA the team to beat?
”I mean yeah, I would say they are the team to beat,” Hockey Canada’s Rebecca Johnston recently told The Ice Garden. “We haven’t won any of the big games in quite a few years now. We’re chasing, and we need to step up and win those big games. We haven’t been performing at our best in those key moments. It’s a goal for us to come out and play our best hockey in those important games.”
The 29 year-old Johnston has been a huge part of Canada’s success. She made her debut in 2007 and has been a mainstay ever since. PyeongChang was Johnston’s third consecutive Olympic Winter Games representing her country. The three-time Olympic medalist knows what it takes become a champion, and how to stay on top.
If Canada is going to beat the US, it starts with doing the little things. Playing sound defensively, getting first to lose pucks, take advantage of special teams, playing to the whistle, and most importantly, firing as much rubber on net as possible.
”I think the one thing is it’s really trying to capitalize on our opportunities and trying to get more pucks to the net.” Johnston echoed. “We’re waiting for the perfect opportunity. We just have to shoot all over the ice and try to capitalize on it. The more you shoot it, the higher percent, you’re going to be able to score.”
The trio of Rebecca Johnston, Marie-Philip Poulin, and Melodie Daoust was Canada’s top line at the Four Nations Cup. Canada’s offence got a boost whenever they were on the ice. The former Cornell University forward led Canada in scoring with five points, and she enjoyed her new linemates.
”It’s a lot of fun,” Johnston said. “They’re two amazing players. I think what makes it work, we’re all just slightly different payers. We complement each other well. I’m excited to hopefully continue playing with them, learn chemistry, and see what they like, and don’t like.”
It could be some time before the trio is reunited. Les Canadiennes forward Melodie Daoust suffered a knee injury in November against Johnston’s CWHL team, the Calgary Inferno. Daoust is expected to be sidelined 6-9 weeks. It’s unclear if Daoust will be back in action for Canada’s next big matchup, a three-game series against the US in February.
The border battle will see Canada vs Team U.S.A on Tuesday, February 12 in London, Ontario, (Budweiser Gardens); Thursday, February 14 in Toronto, (Scotiabank Arena); and Sunday, February 17 in Detroit, Michigan, (Little Caesars Arena).
Johnston is excited for the upcoming series. “It’s always a lot of fun to have that rivalry. It’s great for the fans, for us to have a three games series. It will allow us as a team to get together and have three more quality games. To be able to play in Canada, in London, and Toronto, the fan support will be amazing.”
As Canada and USA Hockey renew acquaintances, the three games series will also allow Canada to see how they measure up against the Olympic champions. It’s a great opportunity to make adjustments, juggle lines, and build chemistry heading into the 2019 World Championships in Finland, where only one thing matters.
”The main goal is to win a gold medal at worlds.” Johnston enthusiastically explained. “For us to get there we need to focus on things, and be at our peak as a team, and individually as well. It’s just really barring down, and focusing on what we need to do because, that is our ultimate goal.”
When Canada doesn’t win Olympic gold, there’s always a summit, sheer panic, and questions of how hockey is being taught, and played. Rebecca Johnston and Team Canada aren’t going anywhere. The red and white are still the biggest arch rival and nemesis to USA Hockey.