Guys give gals an edge

PAUL FRIESEN -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 1:13 PM ET

There's a theory that suggests a team has to learn how to win before it can become a champion.

The Canadian women's hockey team has twisted that adage around a little as it prepares for the Winter Olympics.

Team Canada is actually hoping that losing a few games could help take it to the top of the medal podium in Turin, Italy.

This is what you do when you can't find more than one country that'll provide you with a good game of shiny: you schedule a bunch of games against AAA midget boys' teams.

The skill level is pretty similar. And when you take out the bodychecking, you get a pretty even contest.

An even contest is not what the Canadian women get when they lace it up against other nations. Their record in international games this season: 18-1.

Against the boys, it's a different story.

In 17 games against AAA midget teams so far, Canada is just 7-8-2.

And the women know they can't take a night off. Anybody know a male who can handle losing to a girl? At anything? Didn't think so.

That's why members of Team Canada figure they're more prepared than ever going into two pre-Olympic games against the Americans -- tonight in St. Paul, Minn., and New Year's Day in Winnipeg -- and, ultimately, the Games themselves.

"When you're playing midget AAA guys, you've got to play 60 minutes," captain Cassie Campbell was saying after a practice here yesterday. "Those battles ... are sort of preparing us for the Olympics. We're facing challenges now."

You could say that.

In the 17 games against the boys, the Canucks have been outscored, 61-52. Compare that with international "competition," where the score is 85-15, for Canada.

Of the other countries, only the Americans manage to keep it close. Against the AAA teams, Canada can get blown out if it's not on its game.

PUT UP A GOOD FIGHT

"No one likes to lose against us, so they always put up a good fight," defenceman Cheryl Pounder said. "And they try and beat us. And that's good."

Sounds like it's taught the women a few things, too.

"It's allowed us to play in a variety of different situations that we may not play in if we weren't playing those guys," Pounder said. "Being down two goals, or pulling a goalie late in the game. Playing the guys back to back, it's been very physical."

You can see the progression the women have made.

After going 0-3-1 against boys teams in September, Team Canada went 3-3 in October, 2-2 in November and are 2-0-1 in December.

Now, Team Canada has played against AAA boys before, but never to this extent.

Combined with the full slate of international games, it's felt like a regular season for the women, based in Calgary since the fall.

"They really push us," Winnipeg's Jennifer Botterill said. "I mean, the guys are just naturally bigger and stronger, with longer reaches. It helps us work on the little aspects of the game, so that when we are playing a tough team, we're ready."

Like in the Olympic final, where everybody and their dog predicts Canada will face the U.S., again.

If that happens, perhaps those American skaters won't seem as strong, or the shooters as quick, as what the Canadians are used to.

"A lot of the girls can shoot as hard as the guys," goalie Charline Labonte said. "(But) the boys are so much quicker and faster. And they shoot from everywhere. So it really helps us to always be ready. It's good for reflexes."

And if Team USA throws some attitude at them, well, the Canucks will be ready for that, too.

"There was one (boys) team that was maybe a bit obnoxious," Campbell said. "You'll always get the one team where a couple of guys don't agree with women's hockey."

And how'd they handle it?

"We beat them two out of three times."


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