Golden hat-trick for Botterill?

By PAUL FRIESEN, QMI Agency

She's faced the U.S. more times than she can remember, exchanging hacks and whacks in everything from exhibitions to world championships to Olympic gold-medal finals.

So facing off against the Yanks in Thursday's gold-medal game at Vancouver 2010 is old hat, right Jennifer Botterill?

Yeah, right.

"This one feels special," Botterill said.

For a lot of reasons.

There's the obvious one -- playing in a home Olympics with a crowd that promises to be looney tunes, and several million more watching on the tube.

But the Winnipegger also has a chance to do something only one other Canadian ever has: add a third Winter Olympic gold medal to her collection.

As of today, only speed skater Marc Gagnon has done it.

By Thursday evening, Botterill and teammates Hayley Wickenheiser, Jayna Hefford and Becky Kellar could join Gagnon with the golden hat trick.

Finally, there's the prospect of playing in the Winter Games for the fourth and final time.

Let's face it, at 30 it'll be tough for Botterill, a solid if unspectacular two-way player, to crack an Olympic roster again.

The next wave of female players has been pushing out the vets, one by one. She may hang on for another world championship or two -- if she wants to -- but the odds of her surviving every cut until Sochi, Russia, in 2014, are slim.

Of course, none of that was any concern to Botterill as she prepared for the game of her life.

"Our team has been playing very well this year," she said. "It's been about building. But this team has taken a lot of pride in having depth. Hopefully one of the strongest teams we've ever had."

We'll find out soon enough.

Because the Americans, who've won the last two worlds, are hell-bent on ruining everything, and they have the talent to do it.

"When we play them, the level of the game rises," Botterill said. "Our theme has been, 'performing on any day.' So for us those were important steps to get us here, and in our preparation. We can look at all the hard work we've done, and draw confidence from that."

The enormity of it all may stress out some, but not the daughter of a sports psychologist.

At least, not on the surface.

"Embrace the opportunity," Botterill said. "And the energy we feel from the country and everyone's support. We're looking forward to it."

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