Hayley Wickenheiser returns for 5th Winter Olympics
Vicki Bendus, Bailey Bram, Courtney Birchard are final cuts of women's hockey team
Hockey Canada announced the 21 players that will represent the women’s hockey team at the Sochi Olympics on Monday in Calgary.
The roster includes mainstay Hayley Wickenheiser, who will be heading to her fifth Winter Olympic Games.
Veterans Jayna Hefford and Caroline Ouellette were also named to the team.
A medal of any colour would give Wickenheiser and Hefford five — making them the most decorated hockey Olympians ever. Women's hockey made its Olympic debut at the 1998 Nagano Winter Games.
Forwards Vicki Bendus and Bailey Bram, and defenceman Courtney Birchard were the final three cuts.
The 2014 squad includes a dozen players who beat the American women 2-0 in the 2010 final in Vancouver.
"We're a little bit younger in the experience department," said Wickenheiser.
"We've very similar in the type of style we're going to play — a tight forechecking style and trying to counteract with a lot of speed. We have a little bit more offensive depth on the back end than in 2010 so we'll be counting on them to jump into the attack.
"Goaltending is as good or better. Maybe a little bit more depth overall."
Szabados, Labonte return in net
Edmonton's Shannon Szabados and Charline Labonte, from Boisbriand, Que., return in net for another shot at gold. Genevieve Lacasse of Kingston, Ont., will be making her Olympic debut.
Montreal's Catherine Ward and Meaghan Mikkelson of St. Albert, Alta., are the only two defenders returning from the 2010 squad. They're joined by Jocelyne Larocque of St. Anne, Man., Lauriane Rougeau of Beaconsfield, Que., Laura Fortino of Hamilton and Tara Watchorn of Newcastle, Ont.
"I cried because I was so happy," said first-time Olympian Melodie Daoust of Valleyfield, Que. "Coming here, I had nothing to lose. I was coming here to learn and give the best I could every day. I just wanted to make this team so bad."
The Canadian women have experienced a major transition of late. It started with the startling resignation of head coach Dan Church two weeks ago.
Church, who was expected to guide Team Canada, abruptly resigned with less than two months remaining until the Sochi Olympics, citing a lack of confidence from Hockey Canada executives.
Then Hockey Canada picked former Florida Panthers coach Kevin Dineen last week to replace Church.
“Narrowing our roster down was extremely difficult due to the depth of the female game in our country, but we’re absolutely thrilled to announce the 21 players who will defend our gold medal in Russia,” said Dineen.
"We’re confident the players who will travel this final stretch on the Road to Sochi will do so with passion, perseverance and performance that will make all Canadians proud.”
Canadian women shoot for 4th Olympic gold
The Canadian women are shooting for their fourth straight Olympic gold medal.
But winning another title won’t come easy. It’s expected that Canada’s only real obstacle will come from a strong American team, which defeated the Canadians at the 2013 world championship final in Ottawa.
The two teams are in the middle of a six-game exhibition series as a lead up to Sochi in February.
Things started well for Canada as the team won the first two games in October. The Canadians then beat team USA in the round robin at the Four Nations tournament in November.
But Canada was embarrassed 5-1 in Calgary the same night Church resigned, and again after a 4-1 defeat last Friday in Grand Forks, N.D.
Canada will play the U.S. Saturday in Minnesota, and then next Monday in Toronto.
The women’s Olympic hockey tournament runs from Feb. 8, 2014, when Canada takes on Switzerland in its opening game, and end on Feb. 20 with the gold-medal game.
Canada also faces Finland on Feb. 10, and the U.S., on Feb. 12 during its other round-robin games.
With files from The Canadian Press