'Tobans to soak up worldly experience

PAUL FRIESEN -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 7:22 AM ET

Jennifer Botterill sounded like she'd just won the lottery.

Fresh off her last practice with Team Canada before leaving for the women's world hockey championship in Sweden, the 25-year-old Winnipegger was giddier than a teenager on a shopping spree when we reached her via cellphone in Toronto yesterday.

This from someone who already owns four world championship gold medals, to go along with one from the 2002 Olympics.

Apparently, playing for her home and native land is still sweet as maple syrup.

"It's not a challenge to keep it fresh," Botterill was saying. "It's really uplifting to be here. We train all year on different club teams, which is great. But coming here is definitely a step up. To put on, even the Canadian practice jersey, it's fun."

And it's become almost an annual reunion for our female pucksters.

Players like Botterill, Hayley Wickenheiser, Cassie Campbell and Kim St-Pierre haven't been on the women's national team forever -- it just seems that way.

This year's version of Team Canada has 16 holdovers from last year's gold-medal winner and 13 of the same names that won Olympic gold in Salt Lake City.

Hey, why mess with success, right?

It's generally accepted, though, that, unlike several years ago, the talent pool in women's hockey has a deep end now. All that success on the world stage has meant more and more girls are playing the game.

And that means keeping your spot on this team isn't getting any easier.

"There's a core group of players that have been here for a while, but there are some exciting new players coming up," Botterill said.

"And you have to continue to improve, because they are pushing you."

Now, it's a stretch to say someone could have pushed Botterill out of her spot.

She's coming off a year in which she helped her club team, the Toronto Aeros, win the women's national championship and the National Women's Hockey League titles.

And don't forget she was named the MVP of last year's worlds, leading the Canucks with three goals and eight assists.

So she's one of the team leaders and wasn't going anywhere.

It wasn't quite so elementary for Delaney Collins-Pye, the other Manitoban on the squad.

A product of Pilot Mound, the 27-year-old is a veteran of two world championships who desperately wants to retain her position on the blue-line at least through next winter's Olympic Games in Turin, Italy.

By the sound of her voice over the phone, she's come to appreciate wearing the Maple Leaf more than ever.

"There's a lot of girls that could fill my shoes, so I feel really lucky," Collins-Pye said. "This year, it's going to be really important for me to just really enjoy it ... make sure I keep things in perspective and recognize how lucky I am to be part of this."

Not having been part of Salt Lake City, Collins-Pye would give her eye teeth to help defend the county's Olympic gold in Italy.

For her, this trip to Sweden is not only a world championship, but also a tryout for the Olys.

"I've been close to making the Olympic team, but I wasn't there," she said. "So I'd like to be part of it this next time."

A third 'Toban, Winnipeg goaltender Sami-Jo Small, found out first-hand how badly people want to be part of it.

A seven-year veteran of the national team, Small was bumped from the active roster in favour of up-and-coming goalie Charline Labonte, one of three first-time Canucks at this year's worlds.

Small will make the trip to Sweden as an alternate and could still wind up in the team's plans for Turin.

But the message should be obvious for everyone on Canada's women's team.

Enjoy it while it lasts.


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