Collins on comeback trail

PAUL FRIESEN, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:16 AM ET

Delaney Collins didn't make Team Canada's roster for next month's world women's hockey championship -- but she couldn't have been happier.

That's because yesterday's roster announcement came on the same day Collins completed her first off-ice workout in five months, without experiencing a severe headache.

An October concussion -- Collins caught a rut and went head-first into the boards during a national team camp in Moncton -- had left the defenceman from Pilot Mound, Man., unable to even walk her dog, some days.

"I was the most frustrated I've been my entire life," Collins, 31, said from Calgary yesterday. "But it also broke me down to a point where now I'm just so passionate about hockey and my teammates and Team Canada. In some ways I'm grateful."

It's the old adage: you don't know what you have until it's taken away.

And while Collins won't be ready to compete at the worlds -- veteran Jennifer Botterill is the only Manitoban going to Finland -- there was a sliver of good news in yesterday's announcement.

Actually, more than a sliver.

Collins, along with Botterill and 20-year-old Jocelyne Larocque of St. Anne, Man., earned a spot on the 26-player group to be centralized in Calgary after the worlds, in the leadup to the 2010 Winter Games. Canada's Olympic team will come from that group.

And yes, there were days Collins worried her head injury would kill her Olympic dream.

"I was willing to do anything to get back," Collins said. "I tried physio and massage and craniosacral therapy, acupuncture, the hyperbaric chamber, sitting in a dark room. I tried every vitamin.

"I just have discovered that I truly do wear my heart on my sleeve when it comes to playing for this team."

She always has.

Three years ago, with a couple of world championships under her belt, Collins was devastated when she was cut before the Turin Games.

She gained a measure of redemption by reclaiming her spot for the 2007 worlds in Winnipeg. But to lose a full season so close to her next Olympic shot has her facing yet another difficult comeback.

A comeback that took its first step, finally, yesterday.

"It's been really tough," Collins said. "But in a lot of ways it's helped me be a stronger person, and care more about the people around me, my good friends, my family and my teammates.

One of whom, Botterill, will be playing in her eighth world championship.

"You don't take anything for granted," the 29-year-old Winnipegger said. "Any time I get the call, it's an absolute thrill."

Botterill got the call while in Toronto -- she plays for a club team in Mississauga.

But her eye, like everyone else's, is already on Vancouver.

A veteran of three Olympics, Botterill says knowing she'll get a shot at this next one trumps them all.

"It certainly does have a different element to it," she said. "Any time we've got the worlds in Canada it's amazing. An Olympics in your own country -- that does not come along very often, let alone having the opportunity to try and make a team."

It's an opportunity Larocque certainly didn't expect.

"Shock and excitement, at the same time," is how the young defenceman from St. Anne described her reaction. "It was such an amazing feeling. That is a very, very tough roster to crack."

Larocque is trying to keep her mind on this weekend, when her University of Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs try to defend their national championship at the NCAA's Frozen Four in Boston.

But for her, Botterill and Collins, Vancouver presents a once-in-a-lifetime chance.

"I know there's going to be a lot of work ahead," Collins said, probably speaking for them all. "But I'm looking forward to it."

Contact Paul at paul.friesen@sunmedia.ca or 632-2788.


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