GANGNEUNG, SOUTH KOREA - FEBRUARY 11: Canadian players look on prior to preliminary round action against the Olympic Athletes of Russia at the PyeongChang 2018 Olympic Winter Games. (Photo by Andre Ringuette/HHOF-IIHF Images)
Team playing flawless hockey—here’s why
Canada’s women aren’t just doing one thing well; they’re doing everything well. That’s why they’re 3-0 and favoured to make it to the gold-medal game.
Ten keys to Canada’s success so far.
1. Coaching Experience
Laura Schuler is the coach of this team because she is the best person for the job. Sensational, actually. She won gold as a player with Canada at the 1990, 1992, and 1997 Women’s Worlds and suffered the devastation of defeat in Nagano in 1998. She has a degree in cardiovascular health and exercise from Northeastern, so she knows how to train a body for the rigours of elite athletics. Schuler coached at Northeastern (2004-08), was an assistant at Minnesota-Duluth (2008-16), and head coach again at Dartmouth (2016-present). She led Canada’s women’s U18 team to gold in 2014 and has been coach of the senior women’s team for three years. Resumes don’t get more impressive than this.
2. Best Players Best
When you think of the best players on the team, the leaders, the ones who have to contribute every night, you think of captain Marie-Philip Poulin, Meghan Agosta, Rebecca Johnston. Guess what? They are leading the team in scoring. The best players on paper have been the best players on ice. Throw into the mix Melodie Daoust, a late bloomer of sorts. She helped Canada win gold at the 2010 U18 and played in Sochi, but she didn’t play an IIHF in between Olympics. Yet here she is leading the team with three goals. A welcome surprise for coach Schuler, to be sure.
3. The Fortino Factor
Laura Fortino is the Drew Doughty of women’s hockey, although she doesn’t get the credit Doughty inspires. She was on ice for the one U.S. goal a couple of days ago, and that was the first one since the semi-finals of the 2016 Women’s Worlds! She’s averaging 22:31 of ice time here in Korea, second among the top four nations behind only Jenni Hiirikoski of Finland. Fortino is a rock, the best defender in the game, and the key to Canada’s success in its own end.
4. Blocked Shots
Sacrifice is not a concept; it’s an action. And every Canadian player has shown a near-crazy willingness to drop down in front of shots. Their skill at doing so, and their rate of success, has been key to their ability to keep the puck out of their own goal and to transition quickly to the attack. They need only be reminded of how the Americans won gold in overtime last year in Plymouth, a play that started with a blocked shot in their own end.
5. Young Players Contributing
At 22, Emily Clark is the youngest player on the team, but she has played in two WW18 and three WW events before Korea. Young and experienced, she is the future of Team Canada. Alongside her are Sarah Nurse, who has only a 2013 WW18 tournament under her belt; Renata Fast, who made her Team Canada debut only last year; and, Laura Stacey, who played at the 2011 and 2012 U18 and 2017 Women’s Worlds. The future looks good, but that future is contributing in the present as well with solid, faultless minutes here in Korea.
6. Go to the Net, Not the Outside
The team has always had speed but not always puck-handling skills or confidence to go to the net. Too often the players would whiz down the wing, get forced into the corner, and make an errant play. This team takes the puck to the net, and does so with confidence and play-making savvy.
7. PK Perfection
Penalty killing starts with staying out of the penalty box, and Canada has done a great job of that. They have been short-handed only 16:37 of play in three games and have not allowed a goal. Disciplined play, blocking shots, great goaltending, all the factors that a team needs, Canada has had.
8. Speed, Baby, Speed!
Canada has traditionally had a big, powerful team, but that has been changing over the last few years. Now, one would describe the main characteristic of the roster as speed and skill first. It’s evident in all aspects of play, from offense to puck pursuit to quick decision-making.
9. 'Tenders tending
Shannon Szabados has been so good for Canada for several years but Genevieve Lacasse’s play against the U.S. was impressive, to say the least. It gives Schuler a very welcome—but difficult—decision if the team goes to the gold game: Does she go with Szabados, the proven star, or to Lacasse, who is hot?
10. Remember, then Forget
There is nothing better than winning a tournament, and nothing worse than lining up on the blue line for what seems like an eternity as the other team celebrates, receives its gold medals, and sings its national anthem. Canada hasn’t won a meaningful competition since Sochi, and it’s clear that is on the players’ minds but not to the point of distraction. Use those losses as motivation, but don’t let it distract from the positive preparation. That’s what Canada has been doing in spades since last December.
11. Lady Luck Lives in Lucknow (Bonus)
You have to be good to be lucky, and lucky to be good. True dat. Canada played a sensational game against the Americans the other night in that thrilling 2-1 win, but the U.S. hit four posts behind Lacasse. If even one of those pucks had gone in, it might have been a different game. Oddly, Canada has been at either end of the luck spectrum, on the wrong end in Salt Lake when the penalties were piling up (but they still won), and in Sochi for the luckiest play ever when the Americans hit the post on the empty net, denying them gold. Tennis has it right—when players get a favourable net chord, they always apologize to their opponent. Be sporting for the luck—and take it!