This cut deepest for Small

PAUL FRIESEN -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 10:43 AM ET

Sami Jo Small could have swallowed hard, put on a brave face and offered up a few well-worn cliches.

Instead, the best female goaltender Winnipeg has ever produced emerged from behind her mask and showed why she runs her own public speaking tour: by getting right to the heart of the matter.

Small won't be an active part of Team Canada for the upcoming Women's World Hockey Championship, reduced to the role of alternate goalie.

It's the same role she was forced to accept at the 2006 Winter Olympics and the 2005 world championship.

But this isn't Italy, and it's not Sweden. It's her hometown.

Which makes this cut the unkindest of all, one that left the 30-year-old searching for words yesterday.

"I'm a little jaded by words the last couple of years," Small said on the phone from Toronto. "My feelings are everything you can imagine. Sadness. Anger. Upset. Shock. I've had my best season, have played my best hockey, and proved I belonged."

Small's tone wasn't bitter. She didn't take any shots at Team Canada head coach Melody Davidson. And she certainly didn't blame the two goalies who made it, veteran Kim St-Pierre, 28, and rising star Charline Labonte, who's 24.

But the competitor in her couldn't let this one go any more than she could let in a slap shot from centre ice.

She actually got the news last Friday, while being summoned for a drug test. As if peeing in a bottle while a stranger watches isn't difficult enough on its own.

"The hardest thing about it is not so much dealing with it right away, it's knowing you have to tell everyone," Small said. "I feel as though I've let a lot of people down by not making it. I'll probably know 80% of the people in the stands. That will make it very, very difficult."

This is actually a cruel deja vu for the track star turned puck-stopper.

Back in '98, Small was cut from the national team just before the Nagano Olympics.

And don't forget last year, when the team was getting ready for a pre-Olympic game here against the U.S., a game that would draw some 14,000 people. Small was cut a week before the game, and was so devastated she couldn't even come to watch.

"So I've never actually played in Winnipeg," she said. "The last time I skated at the Winnipeg Arena I was six years old, between periods with the Winnipeg Jets. This would have been sort of a crowning moment for me."

Instead, she won't even get a seat on the bench as a backup.

"Those couple of weeks will be incredibly tough," she said. "I don't feel as though they've taken any of my confidence away as a goaltender. But I do feel they've taken my want, my passion, away the last week.

"When you've had your dreams dashed, it's hard to get over it quickly."

Right now she has a distraction, a season to finish with the Mississauga Aeros of the National Women's Hockey League.

Come the last week of March, when the team gathers, her dashed dream will be played out right before her eyes, every day.

But Small plans to pull herself together by then. Fish the puck out from behind her, you might say, and get ready for the next shot.

"I want to be there to support my teammates," she said. "Being in Winnipeg changes the parameters in my heart, but it doesn't change the fact it's a world championship."

Small has had a pretty good run, too: an Olympic gold from Salt Lake City and four world championship gold (she took top goalie honours in two of them).

"You can't always choose the role you play," Small concluded. "But you can choose how you play it."

I don't know if that's a cliche or not.

But it's pretty sound advice.


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