Players slam tourney boycott

KATHY RUMLESKI -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 7:40 AM ET

SARNIA -- Cassie Campbell's Team Canada teammates are upset that she is shunning the women's national hockey championship.

Vicky Sunohara and Jayna Hefford say they're playing their hearts out at the tournament here and are disappointed other stars like Campbell, the national team captain, and Hayley Wickenheiser are boycotting the event.

Campbell told a Toronto newspaper she isn't attending the annual tournament because it isn't competitive enough.

Hefford disagrees.

"We've had to skate hard and work hard. As far as I can see, there are no medals awarded yet. Me and my teammates are excited to be here. It's unfortunate that they don't find it exciting."

Sunohara said the tournament's focus shifted to Campbell's comments yesterday -- a day after Campbell said the format needed to be changed to avoid blowouts such as Alberta's 15-0 loss to the Toronto Aeros, the host team, on Wednesday.

"It's become the focus in the lobby," said Sunohara, a forward with the Ontario team.

She said there's great hockey being played at the Sarnia Sports and Entertainment Centre and that's what people should be talking about.

"We all need to be on the same page when we try to get the game going in the right direction."

Campbell also said the tournament has become a beer-drinking party.

"I'd love to have (a beer) but I haven't had one yet," Hefford laughed. "There won't be a party until this tournament is over."

Hayley McMeekin of the Aeros was disgusted with Campbell's comments.

"(She) made it out to be a joke. When I read about it, I was really disappointed."

Campbell made a proposal to Hockey Canada calling for six regional teams to play at the national championship: one representing B.C. and Alberta, one from Saskatchewan and Manitoba, two from Ontario, a Quebec team and one from the Atlantic provinces.

Instead, organizers went with the same format used last year for the first time. The 10 teams are divided into two pools, with the weaker teams in pool B. Pool B teams can still work their way into the medal rounds.

London native Nancy Wilson, the coach of the B.C. squad, said she likes the two-pool format.

"It certainly makes it more competitive. You might have 10 Olympians on one team playing against Newfoundland. How much fun is that for Newfoundland?"

Besides Sunohara and Hefford, there are four other national team members here -- Jennifer Botterill, Cheryl Pounder, Charline Labonte and Gina Kingsbury. They will represent Canada at the world championship in Sweden next month.

Two members of the U.S. national team are also in Sarnia -- Angela Ruggiero and Kathleen Kauth.

The players boycotting the tournament are mostly from the Calgary Oval Xtreme, which plays in the new Western Women's Hockey League. Sunohara said the tournament would be even more competitive if the Oval participated.

Tara Dunn, the Nova Scotia captain, said with some unwilling to play, the door opened for other competitors from Alberta.

"This is giving a lot of players some exposure."


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