WINNIPEG - It’s not often Team Canada goes into an international hockey tournament and considers itself an underdog.
But after losing three straight IIHF World Women’s Hockey Championships to the USA, it was a role that Ste. Anne, MB’s Bailey Bram, Jocelyne Larocque and their team Canada teammates played with unwavering pride.
And it paid off.
Canada defeated the United States 5-4 in an overtime thriller Sunday in Burlington, VT. It marked the first time the women’s national team has tasted World Championship gold since 2007.
It’s a feeling Larocque can barely put into words.
“I can’t describe how great it feels,” said the 22-year old defencemen. “So many mixed emotions: excitement, happiness. Everything that I expected it would feel like, it feels like.”
Winning a world championship is one thing, but to exorcise the proverbial demon that is team USA is another. Both of the Ste. Anne products have personal experiences with falling short in big games against the Americans.
For Bram, it was the gold medal game in the 2008 U18 World Championships in Calgary.
“That loss was just crushing,” said Bram, who, at 21, was one of the youngest players on this year’s national team. “I really didn’t want that to happen again.”
Larocque, who chipped in with an assist and was a plus-8 in this year’s world championships, also skated on last year’s women’s team — a team that lost to the Americans in the championship final.
She’s not afraid to use the “R” word in describing her feelings toward beating the U.S. in this year’s final.
“Revenge was definitely on a lot of our minds. Not only for the 9-2 loss in the tournament this year, but for last year and years past,” said Larocque. “We didn’t want to give them four in a row, especially in their home country.”
The 9-2 loss Larocque refers to came in team Canada’s first game of the championships this year. It was a lopsided affair that saw Canada down 5-0 at the end of the first period. Instead of letting yet another loss to the Americans fester and ruin any chance of success this year, the team licked their wounds and went back to the drawing board.
That included watching what Larocque called “mountains of video,” and working tirelessly on their defensive zone game.
Even though the 9-2 loss happened in the tournament’s opening game, Bram said it was a turning point.
“It was like a wake up call. I think we all knew it wasn’t our best hockey and we knew we had a lot to improve on,” said Bram. “I would have been a lot more worried if we had played our best game and lost 9-2.”
For Larocque, the loss was a learning experience the team took to heart.
“If you can get your butt kicked like that, and if you can learn from that, then it ends up being a very positive experience,” said Larocque.
While the gold medals that now drape around their necks serve as a reminder of how hard work and determination can pay off, Bram and Larocque said the entire world championship experience wouldn’t have been complete without the camaraderie the team shared.
Bram recalled one evening during tryouts that she won’t soon forget.
“Hayley Wickenheiser took a bunch of the younger players out for dinner and we all got to meet her and talk to her,” said Bram. “It was really neat.”