Donning the familiar red and white maple leaf for the first time since last February, Canada’s national senior women’s hockey team had a bit of rust to shake off, but overall looked good in its first game since winning Olympic gold in Vancouver.
Joe Trenholm’s goal with just over two minutes to go in the third period stood as the winner as the St. John’s Pennecon Privateers pulled out a 5-4 decision over Team Canada, which used Sunday evening’s tilt at the aptly-named Glacier in Mount Pearl, three-quarters full, as a warmup for the 4 Nations Cup which opens Tuesday at Mile One Centre in St. John’s and the Clarenville Events Centre.
The Canadians played a series of games against AAA midget boys’ teams in western Canada last winter — going 22-9 — in preparation for the Winter Olympics. In the Privateers, the national team faced a squad that will host the Telus Cup national major midget championship in the spring, and one that is 8-1 in the provincial major midget play this season.
“These games are so important for us,” said Canadian forward Rebecca Johnston. “It’s why we were so successful last year.
“The guys are a lot quicker, a lot stronger on the puck. For us, we don’t have as much time with the puck so we have to make quicker decisions. And that’s what challenges us, what forces us to move our feet.
“It’s too bad we don’t have more games like this.”
Last night’s game was the first for Canada since scrimmages during the team’s summer evaluation camp in Calgary two months ago.
And it showed early on, as the Privateers grabbed a 2-1 lead after 20 minutes, both goals coming on odd-man rushes. In fact, the Canadians surrendered four or five two-on-one plays through the opening period.
But while new coach Ryan Walter — who replaces Melody Davidson, now head scout for the national women’s team — was quick to scold his forwards for turning over the puck, perhaps some of Canada’s early woes can be attributed to a retooled defensive corps, one that has only Tessa Bonhomme and Meaghan Mikkelson back from last year’s gold medallists.
Three veteran blueliners — Becky Kellar, Carla McLeod and Colleen Sostorics — retired from the national team during the off-season.
“We’re finding our way out there,” said Walter, the veteran of 1,000-odd NHL games with Washington, Montreal and Vancouver, who served as an assistant to Canucks coach Alain Vigneault last season. “But we’re going to be fine. It’s a work in progress, but we’ll be fine.
“We made an adjustment between periods and we were much better in the second. I give them credit for coming back.”
Canada outscored the midget squad 3-1 to grab a 4-3 lead through 40 minutes, but unanswered goals by Tremholm and Marcus Cuomo in the third sealed the St. John’s win.
“I was really proud of our girls,” Walter said, “because that’s a good midget team. We outchanced them, outshot them and I thought we should have won the game.”
Justin O’Reilly, Danny Wicks and Marcus Power also scored St. John’s. Marie-Philip Poulin, Hayley Irwin, Jennifer Wakefield and Jocelyne Larocque replied.
The 4 Nations Cup opens Tuesday, with Canada taking on the United States 7:30 p.m. at Mile One. Finland and Sweden, the other two teams entered, are set to clash 7 o’clock Tuesday night in Clarenville.
The tournament, one of two major women’s hockey tournaments this season (the world women’s championship goes April 16-25 in Switzerland), was established in 1996, and since then, Canada has won 11 of 14 titles.
Last year in Finland, Canada beat the U.S. 5-1 for the gold medal.
Barring a large upset, it should be another Canada-U.S. matchup in Saturday night’s final that goes 7:30 at Mile One.
“This was just the first game we played together as a team,” cautioned Canadian captain Hayley Wickenheiser Sunday night, “so give us a little leeway. It will come together, and it won’t take us long. Just some time on the ice together.”