November 4, 2012
Four Nations Cup key tuneup for women's hockey worldsHopes tournament will raise profile of women's game during NHL lockout
By Aedan Helmer, QMI Agency
OTTAWA - Good news, Ottawa hockey fans.
The world’s best hockey players of their kind will be converging on the capital in a few short months, with bitter rivals and fierce competitors battling it out for gold medals instead of a silver chalice, and with a shot at Olympic glory on the line.
Tickets for the women’s world championship are already on sale — the tournament's at Scotiabank Place April 2 to 9 — and the women who make up the most elite competition will be getting one final tuneup as the Four Nations Cup kicks off Tuesday in Finland, with Canada, the U.S. and Sweden joining the hosts.
“There are only two major competitions each year, and the Four Nations Cup is a really important tournament for us, a chance to try some players out before the world championships, and with only two major competitions you want to make sure you’re prepared so you get a real sense of where your team is at leading into the WWC,” said Kingston’s Jayna Hefford, a veteran of four Olympics, 11 world championships, and all but one of the 16 Four Nations tournaments.
The only Cup Hefford missed was the first one, in 1996 with the championship held here in Ottawa, when she was a month shy of her 19th birthday.
“We’re really excited to be back in Ottawa, and Ottawa is a place that’s been really friendly to women’s hockey. There’s a lot of history there, with the first women’s world championships (in 1990),” said Hefford. “And being from Kingston, that’s as close as I’m going to get to playing at home.”
And as it always is when the top players in the world assemble in hockey-mad Canada, it’s that next generation who are finding the inspiration on the ice to excel in their own game, with the chance to represent Canada well within their sights.
“The younger players are getting better and better and it’s always fun to see the next group of girls coming into our program at 17- or 18 years old and some of the stuff they can do at that age,” said Hefford. “They’re so much further ahead than some of us (veterans) were 10 or 15 years ago, so it’s nice to see the way the game is progressing and the way some of the young girls are playing.
As much as it seems like we’re a veteran team, we still have some young players who just seem like veterans because they’ve been in the program so long. We have a lot of young players who have a lot of experience and who have had a lot of success at this level.”
And as much as everyone wants NHL hockey back, the women of Team Canada are certainly enjoying the extra attention they — as well as junior, minor league and AHL teams — are receiving in the void.
“Our game is growing and we have a great product with great athletes and great hockey. What we struggle with the most is the awareness, and people having an opportunity to see us play and see what’s going on in women’s hockey,” said Hefford.
“So selfishly we hope that people will take in some women’s hockey since the NHL isn’t playing right now, and I think they’ll be pleasantly surprised. It’s a fast game with a lot of finesse, a lot of skill, and if we get some new people out I think they’ll be impressed and they’ll be fans of the game.”
For Hefford and Team Canada, that all begins Tuesday.
“The Four Nations Cup is a step, the world championships is a step, but ultimately this is all about getting to Russia (and the Olympics) in 2014,” said Hefford.
“From a player’s perspective you take every opportunity to show scouts and coaches you belong, so this is an opportunity for those players to show they can perform at that level and leave a lasting impression.
“We expect to win gold (at the Four Nations Cup), we expect to win gold at the world championships and we expect to win gold at the Olympics. We know there’s a lot of work still to go and a lot of preparation, but it’s exciting that it’s getting closer and that goal is in our sights.”
LAST FIVE YEARS WWC IN CANADA
LAST FIVE YEARS WWC
* Winter Olympics
FOUR NATIONS MEDAL COUNT
**Did not participate in 2001 tournament after 9/11 terrorist attacks.
2011 FOUR NATIONS