Women's coach remains mum on starter

Goalies have to cool their heels until the night before the opener

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VANCOUVER - In her time away from the rink, Kim St. Pierre earned her real estate licence.

But the former gold-medal winning goaltender for Canada can’t deal for some of the toughest real estate to own here, the crease in front of Canada’s net.

As per her custom, Team Canada coach Mel Davidson isn’t revealing the identity of her starting goaltender for Saturday when Canada begins defence of its two-straight gold medals against Slovakia.

Davidson’s approach has been to keep the identity of her starting goaltender to herself until the night before the game. St. Pierre, fellow veteran Charline Labonte and rookie Olympian Shannon Szabados won’t find out who’s playing Saturday until after the Opening Ceremonies Friday night.

Even though she knows that’s how it is, it doesn’t mean St. Pierre, who backstopped Canada to its first gold in Salt Lake in 2002, has to like it.

“I’ve been on the team for 10 years and it’s always been an issue,” said St. Pierre, 31. “Usually we find out the night before and I think that’s going to be the way again this year. It’s not going to be easy. In men’s hockey, we know who’s going to be playing, who’s one, two and three. In women’s hockey, I guess, it’s something we’ve got work on. I think each of us have to keep in mind we’re number ones and prepare yourself as best as you can because who knows who’s going to get the call. It’s not easy, but we have to deal with this issue.

“Everyone else on the team they know they will play, but for us, we’re just like on the fence waiting to see what’s going to happen.”

The emergence of 23-year-old Shannon Szabados of Edmonton, who is making her Olympic debut, has thrown the goaltending battle wide open. Szabados, reflecting the new generation of women hockey players, has spent most of her career playing against boys (five years in Jr. A in Alberta and two more at college).

The women’s team played an intense schedule of games in the last year, many of them against boys’ Midget AAA teams, and the schedule has afforded Szabados the chance to get her foot in the door with strong performances. She was in goal when Canada won the Four Nations Cup last fall.

“(Davidson) knows that we don’t love it, but at the same time she knows what’s good for us,” said Szabados. “We’re fine with it.”

Nobody would be surprised to see her tend the goal if Canada advances to the gold medal game Feb. 25 and giving Canada the potential of winning a third-straight gold with a third different goaltender.

Davidson wasn’t making any apologies for her approach yesterday, which typically sees her use two goaltenders in the big tournaments. While Canada has the last two Olympic golds, the U.S. has won the last two world championships.

“I’m going to give them all opportunities here. It’s an Olympic Games. I want them to enjoy it, too,” she said. “If we wanted to take the easy way and make an easy decision, we wouldn’t have brought three great goaltenders to camp. We would have taken one and picked two that were a far distance from the one and just gone with it. I don’t think that’s fair to the talent in our country. The best people should get an opportunity.”

St. Pierre and Labonte, who was in net when Canada won gold in Turin four years ago, are friends and training partners. Szabados could be seen as the interloper, but everybody has been saying all the right things. Any tension is caused by the uncertainty of who’s going to play and when.

St. Pierre, playing in her last Olympics, is keeping her fingers crossed, hoping for a last chance to jump off that fence.

“If I get the call,” she said, “I’ll be the happiest girl on Earth.”


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