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Youthful turnover in full swing at world championship for Canada’s women’s hockey team


PLYMOUTH, MICH. — Shannon Szabados didn’t want to use the “R” word, because it just wasn’t right.

Yes, the four women who will make their world hockey championship debut Friday night are technically rookies. But as Szabados said, motioning towards 5-foot-10 power forward Laura Stacey, they sure don’t look like rookies.

World hockey schedule

Friday’s scores
Switzerland 2 Czech Republic 1
Sweden vs. Germany
Finland vs. Russia
U.S. vs. Canada (7:30 p.m., TSN1,3,5)

Saturday’s games
Czech Republic vs. Germany, noon
Russia vs. U.S., 3:30 p.m.
Switzerland vs. Sweden, 6 p.m.
Canada vs. Finland, 7:30 p.m., TSN1,3,5

Monday’s games
Germany vs. Switzerland, noon
Canada vs. Russia, 3:30 p.m.
Sweden vs. Czech Republic, 6 p.m., TSN4,5
U.S. vs. Finland, 7:30 p.m.

Tuesday’s games
Relegation round and quarter-finals

Thursday’s games
Relegation round and semifinals

Friday’s games
Relegation round, if nec., noon
Bronze-medal game, 3:30 p.m.
Gold-medal game, 7:30 p.m.

All times Eastern

Nor do they play like them.

“They seem like veterans already,” the 30-year-old Team Canada goalie said prior to Friday’s tournament opener against the United States. “They’re faster, they’re stronger and they definitely shoot the puck harder. The young players coming up are giving the veterans a run for their money. They’re all playing an important role for us, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see them score some big goals or make some big plays.”

Much like Auston Matthews, Patrik Laine and other rookies who stepped into the NHL and immediately made a significant impact this season, the next wave of female hockey players — including Stacey (Kleinburg, Ont.), Sarah Potomak (Aldergrove, B.C.), Erin Ambrose (Keswick, Ont.) and Renata Fast (Burlington, Ont.) — are hoping to do the same in this week’s tournament.

Actually, hope is not the right word. With the team looking ahead to next year’s Olympics, Canada understands that the younger players will have to step up and carry the torch following Hayley Wickenheiser’s retirement this year.

“They all bring something incredible,” Canada head coach Laura Schuler said. “Laura Stacey’s a big, powerful, strong forward that can score goals for us. Sarah Potomak is one of the leaders in the NCAA in terms of putting the puck in the net. Renata Fast has so much speed to her game and is something that’s going to help us on our blue line to have that added speed there. She’s a player where, even if she gets caught, she’s so fast that she can get back. And Erin Ambrose’s vision is outstanding — just outstanding — where she continues to put points up on the scoreboard for us.”

With just three players older than 30 on the roster, this was already going to be a young team. Potomak is 19, Halli Krzyzaniak is 21, and Stacey, Ambrose, Fast, Emerance Maschmeyer and Emily Clark, are all 22.

Ambrose admitted to looking around the dressing room and thinking, “Oh my god, these are players that I literally looked up to my whole life.” But the number of young players on the team means they need to contribute, not hang back and earn your stripes. Whether an unproven teenager or a three-time Olympic gold medallist, each player was told early on that she is expected to play a key role in this tournament and beyond.

“You can’t look ahead (to the Olympics), but you also can’t get your feet wet,” Ambrose said. “That’s when you get yourself in trouble. You’ve got to put yourself all in and if mistakes happen, you can’t hold back from that. If you make a mistake, it happens. I think we rookies understand that and are confident in our play. If we weren’t, we wouldn’t be here.”

Ambrose, who grew up playing Triple-A hockey against boys, tied for seventh amongst defenceman in the Canadian Women’s Hockey League with eight assists in 17 games. Fast tied for fourth amongst defencemen with four goals in 22 games. And Stacey, who was named CWHL rookie of the year, tied for sixth in overall scoring with 11 goals and 24 points in 20 games.

As captain Marie-Philip Poulin said of the offensively dominant Stacey, “Even on this team, everyone is looking up to her.”

“I definitely think it’s been great for younger kids to get these opportunities and kind of roll with them,” Stacey said. “But I think (a large part of it is) the veteran players who are very welcoming and pushing us to be our best, because we do have something different that we can bring to the game. It’s really encouraging. This is kind of the last opportunity to show ourselves for that, before the decision (for South Korea) is made. For me, it’s an opportunity to show that I can be at my best and be a consistent player.”

mtraikos@postmedia.com



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