Canadian women's hockey faces many questions leading to Sochi

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

It is about 10 months away from what will be the biggest moment in many amateur athletes’ lives: the 2014 Olympic Winter Games in Sochi, Russia. To be successful, however, the reality is that these athletes have to see the Games as just one of many important moments in their careers.

It’s easier said than done, especially for a hockey player in this country, but indeed worth every bit of focus in the search for balance.

The women’s hockey program is just coming off a loss to the USA at the world championship in Ottawa – another close game on the scoreboard, but not on the ice. The Americans dominated the shots on goal. They seemed to be quicker and stronger in all facets of the game.

I was the first captain to lose a world championship gold medal for Canada, so I understand the disappointment. But with disappointment comes much-needed change.

The program will do an overview of what went wrong and where it should go. With a plan for Sochi already in place, the group will gather again in May for a training camp at Canada Olympic Park, a world-class facility built by Winsport and Hockey Canada.

Preparation during the next 10 months is crucial, but so has been the last three years after the Olympic Games concluded in Vancouver.

The attention from “outside the bubble” will continue to increase rapidly as all levels of media and sponsors ramp up their coverage and campaigns, looking to tell the stories of many athletes across the country and the world.

Athletes will qualify or make the team and others will be left to ponder: “What if?” And “how could I have made things different?”

Lifestyle choices

This all sounds so scary and blunt, but what they put into their performances and the relentless lifestyles they choose makes all the difference.

Their families are thought of often … every day for that matter. Families, though, are not “inside that bubble” – the bubble, where every athlete goes to limit distraction, decrease the stress and to focus every moment, every decision on competition and performance.

For some sports, external distractions will be managed by National Sport Organizations that will predetermine an athlete’s schedule down to the very seconds and minutes of each day.

For others, finding a balance between cashing in and focusing on the task at hand will be a tough assignment – one that requires some selfishness and discipline. It’s never an easy job for an athlete who most likely makes little money during the first three years after an Olympic Games and has the best opportunity in that Olympic year to help with the income that allows them to compete beyond the Games.

Nobody said winning was easy.

Gold only colour that matters

After losing five of the last seven world championships it’s hard not to wonder how things could have gone better for the women’s hockey team. Solace can be taken in knowing the organization has won three of the last four Olympic Games, but the fact remains: gold is the only colour that matters. Anything less under the Hockey Canada umbrella is simply unacceptable.

So, with expectations like these, some questions must be asked.

Does the women’s program need to get younger? Does it have the right coaches and staff? Does it need to mix some younger players into the leadership group? Do they need to turn more focus to off-ice habits or on-ice habits?

And because it is Canadian hockey after all, these questions will be discussed loud and at length both “inside the bubble” and “outside the bubble!”

For the next 10 months, it’s about finding a balance that works.

CBC - Cassie Campbell-Pascall

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