Maple Leaf not forever

MIKE ULMER -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:26 AM ET

Vicky Sunohara was wearing the jersey again yesterday, as she has through six women's world hockey championships and two Olympics. But she knows they are coming for her.

It's the nature of the business.

"I love the game, I love the competition," she said. "They'll have to push me a whole lot harder until I stop."

They are the kids either on the roster, on its fringes or in the wings as Canada seeks its ninth women's world championship in nine tries this April in Sweden.

The tournament is set for for April 2-9.

DARK SIDE

The dark side of the dream comes at the end. There is only one Olympic team and no weaker club where a player can rekindle her career or play out the string.

Playing with the best means an accelerated life cycle. An incremental slip and you're gone. Injuries, a slight diminishing in passion, a shift in your life's priorities or the arrival of someone better and they ask for your Maple Leaf back.

Nancy Drolet, the third- leading scorer in Team Canada history, was cut just prior to the Salt Lake Olympics in 2002.

Angela James, the Wayne Gretzky of women's hockey, was cut from the team at age 32 in 1997, just before the 1998 Nagano Olympics.

The heights for a Canadian player are loftier than in any other nation, but so is the fall.

"I don't know that you ever, truly get over it," said assistant coach Margot Page, a three-time world champion. "You understand it, but there's that spot in your heart that's always going to hurt a bit and you're always going to have that."

When the 34-year-old Sunohara looks down the roster, she sees Sarah Vaillancourt, only 20, and Gillian Apps, just two years older, at forward.

In goal, 22-year-old Charline Labonte has pushed 29-year-old Sami Jo Small to the practice roster. Eighteen-year-old forward Meghan Agosta and 19-year-old defenceman Tessa Bonhomme will travel to the tournament but will not dress. Their presence nonetheless signals their eventual transition into the lineup.

Three years after the Canadian women's victory in Salt Lake, seven of the golden 20 are gone and more may be pared a year from now when Canada defends its title in Turin, Italy.

Therese Brisson, a 38-year-old six-time world champ, was left of the roster for Sweden. So was Lori Dupuis, a four-time world champ, and Dana Antal. All three played in Salt Lake.

"Those girls were not only great teammates, they were great friends," Sunohara said. "Lori probably is one of my best friends, she works like no other."

Coach Melody Davidson said Dupuis, a checking forward, was caught up in a move toward a more wide-open, puck-control style.

"It wasn't really a matter of a need for new blood or faces, it was how they played, if they stepped up or didn't step up in certain situations," she said.

ISN'T A LOCK

Forward Danielle Goyette, at 39, is the only player on the roster older than Sunohara. Despite four goals and six points in five Olympic contests , Sunohara isn't a lock to make the team a year from now. No one is. That's what playing for Canada is all about.

"The kids everyone is talking about are going to be trying for that Olympic team," Sunohara said. "For me, I've made the world championship, I have to play well and then set my goal for making the Olympic team."


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