Hyped about hometown

PAUL FRIESEN -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 8:05 AM ET

If Jennifer Botterill needed a reason to keep playing hockey for Team Canada beyond the Winter Olympics in February, she just got it.

Informed by the Sun yesterday that the 2007 World Women's Hockey Championship is coming to her hometown, the Winnipeg native nearly drove her car off the road.

"That's the first I've heard of it," Botterill said from Calgary, home base for the national women's team as it gears up for the Olympics. "That's really exciting. The city does such a great job with events like that. They'll do a great job of it. It'll be exciting for the players, and the city, too."

It'll be the first time a women's worlds will be held in the 'Peg, and certainly the biggest game Botterill will ever have played in front of that many family and friends.

Assuming she's still on the national team at the time, of course.

Based on her track record, the former Harvard University star should be a lock.

Just 26, Botterill has already taken part in five world championships (four gold medals) and two Olympic Games (one gold, one silver).

She has this habit of coming up big in world championships, too, having been named the tournament MVP in both 2001 and '04.

That '04 event set the bar Winnipeg will be shooting to clear in '07.

Hosted by Halifax/Dartmouth, the event set an attendance record, attracting 94,001 fans through 20 games, including 10,506 in the gold medal final.

"They packed it," Botterill recalled. "Honestly, people were on their feet cheering eight or 10 minutes before we even got out there to start the game. So it really was a great atmosphere."

And one Winnipeggers can not only match, but beat, she figures.

"Absolutely. Why not? One of my favourite memories is playing in Winnipeg. It's the most fun when you get to play in front of family and friends. That makes it so special."

Until now, the biggest game Botterill has played in her hometown was a pre-Olympic match against the U.S. back in '97, her first year on the national team.

"It was one of the favourite games for most of the girls all year," she said, recalling the strong turnout at the old Winnipeg Arena.

This New Year's Day, Canada will take on the Yanks in another Olympic tune-up, a game that could draw close to 10,000 fans.

Women's hockey has come a long way, baby.

"It was great back then, and it's only grown," Botterill said.

"There's more interest and support. I'm very optimistic that people will be excited for it."

Botterill can only imagine what the worlds will do for women's hockey in the province, too.

Chances are there will be a few more girls trading in their ringette sticks for hockey sticks, the way Botterill did at 13.

"It's so valuable," Botterill said.

"That's how the game has changed. Now there are little girls who are five and six and starting to play hockey who are already thinking about playing on the national team, or dreaming about it. A lot of the girls on the national team now, we didn't have that to aspire to when we were younger.

"And in a tournament like this, where you get the international teams in, and the recognition, it will hopefully motivate a few more girls to love the game."

And motivate one to stay in it.

Not that Botterill was thinking of calling it quits after the Olympics.

"Everybody for this year has been really focused and then (we'll) wait and see this spring," she said. "But I certainly have no immediate plans (to retire)."

Especially not now.

Winnipeg, and the Worlds, are waiting.


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