Team chemistry

ANGELA MacISAAC -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 8:27 AM ET

A heaping helping of humble pie in April helped remind Hayley Wickenheiser of how losing feels.

And that one slice -- a 1-0 shootout loss to the U.S. at the women's world hockey championship in Sweden -- was enough for the Team Canada veteran. Especially considering it was the first time in nine worlds the Canadians returned home without gold.

"I wouldn't say bitter as much as disappointed," Wickenheiser said yesterday, following Team Canada's press conference to announce the beginning of its centralization program for the 2006 Winter Olympics.

"I was really disappointed in the way we played. We didn't deserve to win that game but maybe it fuelled the fire for Turin, Italy, giving us a little unfinished business."

Centralization brings 27 players and the coaching staff, led by bench boss Mel Davidson, to Calgary to train for the Feb. 10-26 Games. To prepare for selecting its final roster of 20, Team Canada will practise at 10 am. Monday to Saturday when it isn't travelling to play games, including a schedule against Alberta triple-A midget teams and international tournaments.

Exhibition games, five of which will be held in Calgary, kick off Aug. 20 when Finland visits Father David Bauer for a 7 p.m. start.

"I'd rather be playing than practising for eight months and stepping into Olympics," Wickenheiser said. "It gives us a chance to play under pressure and play games we're not guaranteed to win just by showing up.

"That will really show who the top-20 players are."

Davidson won't be taking for granted any of the games, using each one to see how the players measure up.

"The full season is crucial," said Davidson, who joined Team Canada for the 2004-05 season. "Going into a gold-medal game, you want to know who's showing up. You don't want to hope they're showing up because they did one other time."

With 186 days left until the Olympics, Calgarian Carla MacLeod needs to do everything she can to get a spot on the team. She donned the Maple Leaf for the first time at the worlds.

"I reached my goal that I'd dreamt about for so long and it was so exciting to don that jersey," said MacLeod.


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