Bonding begins

PAUL FRIESEN -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 8:27 AM ET

Two days into a pre-world championship training camp and Team Canada boss Melody Davidson already likes what she sees in her troops.

"They're here on a mission," Davidson said from Dauphin yesterday. "They're intense. They know what we have to do this week, and they're willing to do whatever needs to be done, so we're ready when we get to Winnipeg."

One week from today, Canada opens the 2007 World Women's Championship against Switzerland in a Round 1 game that's likely to be more important than it is competitive.

Only the first-place teams in each Round 1 pool have a shot at the gold medal, so Canada must go hiccup-free against both the Swiss and Germans.

The heavy lifting begins after that.

But history has shown the groundwork for any short event like this is laid in the days preceding the first slap shot.

It's all about building team chemistry, and doing it quickly. And it's got nothing to do with X's and O's on a chalkboard.

I'm talking personalities, not power plays. Assimilation, not systems. Bonding over breakouts.

Sure, this team has a large core of players who've been through the Olympic and world championship battles of the past.

But that doesn't mean you just assume all the personalities still mesh.

"That's still really important, and it's what's made this team successful in the past," Winnipeg's Jennifer Botterill, part of Team Canada since 1997, said. "That's something you never take for granted. While there are quite a few returning players ... you still have some new faces. In one way or another, you've got a new group and a new atmosphere. Every year you have to go through that, and make it work."

In other words, it's about more than just talent.

You can have the most skilled team in the world, and if it's not absolutely glued together, adversity could split it.

Just look at this country's first women's Olympic team.

Canada entered the Winter Games in Nagano having won gold at all four world championships. Olympic gold was a given.

Until the team unravelled in a 3-1 loss to the U.S. in the final.

"We learned a lot from that year," Botterill said. "That's a good example where we didn't come together as much as we should have or could have."

Hockey Canada and its third-year head coach is taking no such chances this time around.

That's one of the reasons Team Canada is in relative quarantine in Dauphin, four hours from the big city and the distractions that go with it.

Beyond that, Davidson says there's nothing planned, yet.

"If you get the sense of that, you put together a few things to make sure you're together and we don't have any issues that way," she said. "I'll have to read the situation. It might be a movie night. Or it might be bowling or swimming. Maybe it's just a walk together, who knows? We usually just do things on the spur of the moment if the situation calls for it."

This year's team has just one player on the active roster -- 21-year-old defenceman Tessa Bonhomme -- who wasn't involved in last year's Olympic championship.

Davidson says she'll leave it to the veterans to make sure Bonhomme and a couple of the more inexperienced alternates are welcomed into the fold.

So far, she likes what she sees.

"We've got three or four studying together. We've got four or five that go down to watch a movie. We've got a games room that people hang out in. It just happens by accident, for the most part."

If it doesn't, she'll give it a little push.

Because as we learned in Nagano, you don't take it for granted.


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