Current and future Olympians with Canada’s national women’s hockey team took to the ice at Western Financial Place on Tuesday evening, facing off against the Cranbrook Bucks as part of a back-to-back exhibition series against BCHL opponents.
Despite the national women’s team holding the Bucks at 4-2 early in the third period, the hosts scored four unanswered markers on route to an 8-3 win over the visitors.
“For us, it’s great preparation looking forward to the Olympics,” said Mélodie Daoust, a two-time Olympian with the Canadian National Women’s Team (CNWT). “I think we saw that every little mistake is going to cost us a goal, so I think it’s great to learn from that and move on.”
Liam Hansson put the Bucks up five minutes into the opening frame, as the Cranbrook hosts poured on the pressure, however, CNWT goaltender Ann-Renée Desbiens allowed only one goal in 20 shots.
Kellan Hjartarson doubled the Bucks lead early in the second period, but the CNWT answered right back just over a minute later, as Julia Gosling pounced on a loose puck in front of the Bucks goal.
“It was a nice play on the net…I just got the rebound and went five-hole,” said Gosling. “It was amazing, just to celebrate with my team, my first goal here.”
Bucks forward Tyson Dyck restored the two-goal lead a few minutes later, and added his second with a dozen seconds remaining in the period for a 4-1 lead after 40 minutes.
Daoust pulled the CNWT back to within a two-goal deficit early in the third period.
“I took the puck from the half wall, put it down low, and she gave it back to me for a one-T, ” Daoust said. “I think if we can do more of that throughout the entire game, we’re going to create more offence and more goals.”
However, the Bucks poured it on after that as the hosts scored four unanswered markers.
Dyck completed a hat trick, while Noah Quinn scored twice and Brendan Rodgers also found the back of the net.
CNWT forward Jessie Eldridge broke in on goal from a rush off the wing in the final minute, beating Bucks netminder Nathan Airey for a late-game tally.
“It was a great experience,” said Hjartarson. “Not many chances you’ll get like that to play a national women’s team. We tried to make the most of it and it was a fun night overall.”
CNWT goaltender Desbiens stopped 35 of 39 shots after two periods, and Kristen Campbell finished off the game for the final frame, making 14 saves in 18 shots. Cranbrook’s Airey turned aside 20 out of 23 shots for the win.
It was the second game in as many nights with a BCHL host for the CNWT, who faced off against the Trail Smoke Eaters on Monday night in the West Kootenay on Monday, Oct. 4.
It’s a unique experience for both national program players to come play in areas that may be off Hockey Canada’s beaten path, as well as for local fans to see players who will be part of Canada’s Olympic team.
“I think it’s great to have an impact amongst the community that we go into,” said Daoust. “I think that’s one of our biggest goals, we want to make sure that either parents or little girls or even little boys that are in the stands can get inspired by us and that girls can play against boys and give them a good ride, so I think for us, it’s really important to continue to do that, learn from the little mistakes that we made and keep getting better as a whole group.
“But I think it’s pretty amazing to come into a rink — we haven’t played in front of a big crowd like this in a long time…it’s been almost two years, so it’s just great to be able to see people in the stands and cheer us.”
The CNWT is coming off a gold medal win in a thrilling 3-2 OT final against the United States at the IIHF Women’s World Championship earlier in August with a roster that featured many players on the ice at Western Financial Place Tuesday night.
Meanwhile, there will be more junior hockey tuneups in Alberta over the coming months as the CNWT gets prepared for the Beijing Winter Olympics next February and Daoust gets set for her third Olympic tour with the national squad.
“Love it,” Daoust said, in reference to the group training for the Games. “To be honest, we’re a family and it’s not to sound cliche, but it’s a very, very tight group. We saw it at worlds, we needed everyone, from the player in the stands up to the player on the ice. I think we have a very special group where we all bring something different to the game.”