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Wednesday, January 16, 2002

Sniper's release shocks players

By ERIC FRANCIS -- Calgary Sun

 Shell-shocked by the Americans to just plain shocked by the coach.

 On the heels of an eighth-straight loss to the U.S., the Canadian women's hockey team was surprised to show up at Father David Bauer Arena yesterday minus prolific scorer Nancy Drolet.

 Cut by coach Daniele Sauvageau after practice Monday and replaced by Under-22 sniper Cherie Piper, Drolet's departure was a major shake-up less than a month before the Salt Lake Olympics.

 "Nancy is well known as someone who scores big goals and this year, for some reason, that is something that was missing from her play," said Sauvageau yesterday, shortly after informing her team of the move.

 "We needed to add some offence to our team and Cherie Piper can play wing, centre and on any line. It was a hard decision but it's purely professional."

 A fixture on the team since 1992, Drolet had won six world championships with Canada, scoring the overtime winner in both the 1997 and 2000 final.

 A silver medallist at the Nagano Olympics, Drolet sat seventh in team scoring this season with six goals and four assists in 17 games.

 "I am still shocked," said Drolet in a prepared statement. "I gave 10 years of my life to the team, so what matters to me most is the support of my fellow teammates. For now, I am looking at all my options and deciding if appealing this decision is the way to go."

 Having dominated the world scene for the better part of a decade, Canada's women's squad suddenly finds itself unable to win against the team it will undoubtedly face in the Olympic gold medal match. Unwilling to allow things to slide as they have, Sauvageau studied every component of the team's play and consulted with her coaching staff before electing to drop the 5-ft. 6-in., 145-lb. Drummondville, Que., native.

 "We needed to look at ourselves and see if we had everything we needed," said Sauvageau, who flatly denied rumours the move was made for disciplinary reasons.

 "Of course (the losses to the U.S.) are part of it. Who is the best team right now and who is the team to beat? The U.S. is."

 Danielle Goyette, a longtime teammate of Drolet's, said she was numbed by the news.

 "I was surprised, especially so close to the Olympics," said Goyette.

 "I played with her the last three games and we didn't produce all that much so it could have happened to me. Every player in that room should look at themselves in the mirror and feel guilty about what happened (to Drolet). It's a team game."

 Hayley Wickenheiser said it could ultimately benefit the team.

 "I think something needed to be changed to shake things up," she said. "We're seven-time world champs and we have a lot of veterans in the room and can get complacent at times. I think this has put everybody on their toes and it'll be a rallying point for us."

 Prior to the Nagano, the women's team faced a similar scenario when coach Shannon Miller cut veteran Angela James. James cried foul, sparking a CHA investigation that ruled in favour of the coach but brought to light rumours of a romance between a staff member and another player. The rumours were investigated and proven to have no merit.

 While Sauvageau suggested there was still a chance Drolet could replace an injured player, an appeal by her would likely end such a possibility.

2002 Games Columnists