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Hockey With new women’s Olympic roster, Hockey Canada marks end of an era

Canada’s Caroline Ouellette is one of the veterans who will not be back for the Olympics this year.

JUNG YEON-JE/AFP/Getty Images

Hockey Canada chose 28 players for its tentative women's Olympic hockey roster Wednesday, an announcement that officially marked the close of one era in the sport and the beginning of another.

The 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang will mark the first time Canada's roster didn't include either Hayley Wickenheiser or Jayna Hefford, the long-time faces of the women's national team, who retired after playing in all five previous Olympic hockey events.

Moreover, Caroline Ouellette, who made her Olympic debut in 2002 and won gold medals each of the four times she represented Canada at the Olympics, was also left off the roster.

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Ouellette, who won a Canadian Women's Hockey League championship with Les Canadiennes de Montreal this past season, skipped the 2017 women's world championship, won by the United States, to act as an assistant coach for Canada – and plans to make coaching her career.

In a telephone interview, Ouellette said she was "okay with not playing in these Olympics. It was hard at first because for someone like me, who loved the game so much, playing is the best. But I also love coaching. I find it very rewarding. This is the next chapter in my life, so I'm ready to tackle it."

Ouellette turns 38 in two weeks, but finished fourth in the overall CWHL scoring race last season. However, she is one of those rare unflinchingly honest players who candidly acknowledged, "I don't think I was fast enough to play at this level any more. Yes, I could have brought experience and leadership, but if you look at the U.S. and how talented they are, it's not enough any more."

In all, 14 players appointed to the roster played for the team that won the gold medal in Sochi, Russia, in 2014, including Marie-Philip Poulin, who has scored the winning goal for Canada in each of the past two Olympics. Only 23 of the 28 players can be picked for the final Olympic roster, which will be tentatively unveiled at the end of December.

The leadership roles on the 2018 team will largely fall on Poulin, Brianne Jenner and goaltender Shannon Szabados.

In discussing the transition to a younger, faster team, Jenner described the trio of Wickenheiser, Hefford and Ouellette as "legends in our sport and in our game and obviously, they'll certainly be missed. But this is a new team now, and a new era. Our focus is to try and get this program back on top.

"I think we have all the experience and leadership we need in this room. It's just a matter of figuring out to get the job done."

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While Canada and the United States remain the predominant powers in women's hockey, the Americans have mitigated their Olympic disappointments by winning the past four world championships, and seven of the past eight.

In non-Olympic years, players from CWHL teams, U.S. college teams and teams in Europe gather for a hurry-up five-day training camp and then they start to play. Chemistry needs to be developed almost instantaneously.

In an Olympic year, they assemble in Calgary in August, and practise as a team for six months and then go to the Olympics. Chemistry can be developed over time.

The belief is that the latter form of preparation builds deeper team values, and more trust among the players because there's more familiarity there. In a team sport, the opportunity to become a team is critical. There is a boot-camp-like element to the latter process, which Poulin says provides "a great opportunity to build chemistry."

"The stakes are very high," Jenner said. "This is everyone's dream – to play in the Olympics. As much as we're coming together, we're also battling for the spots. So I think the important thing is having that perspective – of what we're playing for and what the goal is at the end of the whole process."

Just as in past years, Hockey Canada will base its women's team in Calgary, beginning in August, where the players will prepare for their gold-medal defence.

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The roster features many players with interesting back stories, including the sister team of Amy and Sarah Potomak of Aldergrove, B.C.

Jennifer Wakefield, a returnee from 2014, played this past season in Linkoping, Sweden, while Meghan Agosta, a full-time officer with the Vancouver police service, didn't have a full-time women's team affiliation last year. Instead, she played and/or practised with three different teams while working full-time – the Valley West Hawks, a midget boys' team based in Langley, B.C., the police department team, and, after turning 30 in February, her brother's 30-and-over team. Agosta is taking a leave of absence to represent Canada.

Financially, players are compensated for the move to Calgary with a stipend that goes beyond the standard Sport Canada funding of $18,000 a player.

Hockey Canada's annual agreement, negotiated with its players through the Women's High Performance Advisory Committee, runs from Oct. 1 to Sept. 30 and covers costs associated with insurance, travel, ice time, coaching and other expenses associated with the players' training.

There is also a nine-month addendum to the agreement to cover player costs associated with basing the team in Calgary. That agreement runs from July 1, 2017, until March, 2018, and provides players with a training allowance, which covers rent, food, relocation costs and child-care expenses where applicable.

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