The 2004 IIHF women’s world championship had a lasting impact on women’s hockey in Nova Scotia.
Case in point: of the players and staff attending Hockey Canada’s national women’s team training camp this week in Halifax, an even dozen are from this province.
Of course, forwards Jillian Saulnier of Halifax and Blayre Turnbull of Stellarton have each been with the national team since 2014.
Off the ice, Spryfield’s Troy Ryan is in his second season as head coach. New Glasgow’s Kori Cheverie is an assistant coach. The staff also includes goaltending consultant Joe Johnston of Lower Sackville, team physician Dr. Tina Atkinson of Dartmouth and therapists Amie Lee of New Glasgow and Diane Ouimet of Halifax.
Even assistant coach Jim Midgley, who hails from Townsend, Ont., has for much of the past two decades called this province home as a player with Saint Mary’s University and coach with the Halifax Mooseheads.
If the 2021 women’s world championship is played this spring in Halifax and Truro, Ryan expects it will have the same effect.
“We have a great staff of people from Nova Scotia and you don’t have to look too far as to why,” Ryan said in an interview this week.
“When you look at 2004 when the women’s world championship was here in Halifax, there tends to be a lot of people who were impacted one way or another by an event like that.
“If we’re allowed to pull it all off again, it will have a similar impact in a few years time.”
This week’s camp, which takes place in a secure, isolated environment, includes practices limited to 25 participants at the Scotiabank Centre.
“With only 25 allowed on the playing surface, it doesn’t allow us to have scrimmages so we decided to split them up in groups,” Ryan said. “We don’t even want to come close to the 25. So, we have smaller games and give them the opportunity to compete on the ice.”
National team players, those who aren’t attending a U.S. college, have skated and trained this winter in Toronto, Montreal and Calgary hubs with access to Hockey Canada skills coaches. Saulnier has been living Montreal while Turnbull resides in Calgary.
Prior to arriving in Nova Scotia, the players quarantined at their homes and all players and staff were tested on arrival at the Halifax airport.
Ryan said players and staff are holed up at a Halifax hotel and the only time they leave, they hop on a bus to the Scotiabank Centre to attend practice.
“And then we get back to our hotels and do our meetings virtually,” Ryan added.
All team meetings are done over Zoom in their hotel rooms. And team meals are prohibited.
“We get a knock at our door and there’s a meal for us on the floor,” Ryan said.
The national team held a similar camp over 14 days in Calgary in January. Ryan said that camp “went remarkably well.”
It was the first physical gathering of national team players since the COVID-19 pandemic shuttered the sports world last March. Their last game together was Feb. 8, 2020, the fifth and final game of a Rivalry Series versus the rival United States.
When you look at 2004 when the women’s world championship was here in Halifax, there tends to be a lot of people who were impacted one way or another by an event like that. If we’re allowed to pull it all off again, it will have a similar impact in a few years time.
“Just to be able to pull off a camp in a safe environment but also provide a good, competitive environment for the athletes was definitely beneficial,” said Ryan, who took over the head coaching reins of the women’s national team following the dismissal of Perry Pearn in January 2020.
“Shortly after that, discussions started about potentially having a camp here in Atlantic Canada. It definitely was a whirlwind to get it done and the latest restrictions made it a little more difficult but everybody was supportive of us coming.
“The camp in Calgary was great when a lot of times it can be more of a grind. And that’s not what this group needs right now,” the 48-year-old continued.
“They’re going on a year now without any consistent competition. The best thing about these camps is at least we get them together and that’s half the battle. Getting them together, letting them compete with each other. It’s great for their mental state during such a difficult year.”
The question remains whether Team Canada will face international competition at the 10-team world championship, which was originally scheduled for April 7 to 17 but is now tentatively booked for May 6-16.
In November, the International Ice Hockey Federation cancelled 18 world championship tournaments slated for this spring amid the continued coronavirus outbreak. But it kept the 2021 women’s worlds on the docket.
“The playing field is changing all the time,” Ryan said. “But I’ve been optimistic the whole time that it will happen.
“I also know that the first priority is everybody’s safety and it’s not just worth it unless we can do it in a safe environment. I’m confident Hockey Canada has had a lot of discussions with the Nova Scotia government, the health authorities as well as the IIHF.
“We’ll leave it with them. But I’m hopeful.”