Start your engines, ladies

Team Canada's Hayley Wickenheiser skates at The MTS Centre during team practice on Monday. (Sun...

Team Canada's Hayley Wickenheiser skates at The MTS Centre during team practice on Monday. (Sun Media/Chris Procaylo)

PAUL FRIESEN -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 10:39 AM ET

The 13-month wait is over.

The World Women's Hockey Championship, in Team Canada's sights since the Olympics last February, faces off here and in Selkirk tonight.

"They're chomping at the bit," Canadian head coach Melody Davidson was saying yesterday. "We're that close to playing in their home country. For a lot of them, it's the first time they've done that."

It might also be the first time many local hockey fans have seen the women's game up close.

If that's the case, they might be surprised at the speed.

Almost certainly they'll be taken aback by the teamwork and the crispness of the passing.

But there should be no surprises on the scoreboard, not tonight.

Three games, three blowouts. Bet on it.

Let's face it: suspense is not part of the early equation in this tournament.

Canada-Switzerland? A laugher.

The U.S. and Kazakhstan? Same deal.

Sweden vs. Russia? Sorry, Vladimir Putin's Russia doesn't have much time for females in shin pads, apparently.

That said, if any of the favourites slip up these first few days, they could find themselves banished to their own version of Siberia.

The format dictates teams must finish first in their three-team pool to have a shot at the gold medal.

Of course, Canada and the U.S. could go 2-0 with their B-teams.

So what's it all about tonight?

"Discipline and good habits," Davidson said.

It's not so much what Davidson wants her players to do against the Swiss, it's what she doesn't want them to do.

Don't look for any end-to-end rushes. And if you see one, look for the star player to soak in the crowd adulation, then humbly take a seat on the bench -- or worse.

"Benching would be a little nicer than what I might say to her," Davidson said. "They'd probably be happier with the benching."

Say what?

"We don't want them to freelance or go off on their own little path," the coach explained. "If they've got the puck, somebody's going to be in a passing option -- or they'd better be. I don't want to see them go end to end. In some games you get that opportunity, and that's fine. But in the games coming up, it's about good teamwork habits.

"They'll know when the time is to go. And I'm not so sure the first game is that one to pick."

You see, that fancy-schmancy individual stuff won't work against the U.S. in Round 2, when the games really start to matter. So you want to be programmed to move the puck, not rag it.

So these first two games, against Switzerland and Germany, are more tests of selflessness than anything.

Of course, anytime you throw together an all-star laden Canadian team, men's or women's, you're asking players to leave their egos at home.

Davidson acknowledges getting players to accept their roles is her greatest challenge.

"And not that they're negative or they disagree with what we do," she said. "It's just they're so used to playing on the power play. And then all of a sudden they get here and they're not going to see any power play time."

But enough about the Xs and Os.

This is about the Canucks and Yanks making sure they don't do anything to screw up another terrific meeting in the gold-medal game, a week from today.

They've met in the previous nine finals, so this would make it a perfect 10.

Canada has won all but the last one, in '05. The Turin Olympics were supposed to be about avenging that loss, but the U.S. never even got to the final.

So this showdown is really two years in the making.

Memo to the two favourites: don't mess up.

And no end-to-end rushes.

Until the final.


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