By Ethan Diamandas
After nearly a year apart, Canada’s national women’s hockey team is back on the ice together to gear up for the 2021 IIHF Women’s World Championship.
Three players with Ottawa ties were among Team Canada’s group that participated in a training camp in Halifax from March 1-7. Players stayed in a bubble environment, shuttling between their hotel and the Scotiabank Centre as they prepared for the May 6 start of the World Championship tournament that’s being held in Halifax and Truro, N.S.
Kanata’s Jamie Lee Rattray was one of 35 players invited to the Halifax camp. She said it felt great to be back with her teammates after so much time off.
“You could really tell that the girls all missed the competition and being around each other because the energy at camp was just so awesome,” Rattray told the Ottawa Sports Pages in a recent interview.
Like it was for most, 2020 was an abnormal year for Team Canada. The team played its last legitimate game in March 2020 before the pandemic shut things down for good. Typically, an offseason training camp would begin the following September, but that camp didn’t start until January 2021 in Calgary.
While Team Canada has had limited opportunities to compete in game-like environments, Rattray, 28, said the pandemic provided a unique chance to hone her skills.
“It gave me an opportunity to really train hard and kind of focus in on things that I needed to work on off and on the ice,” Rattray said.
Rattray said she doesn’t feel like she’s lost a step at all. In fact, it’s been quite the opposite.
Since Team Canada hasn’t been able to travel to play opponents since resuming on-ice activities, they’ve practised much more often than usual — something Rattray said has helped the team improve.
“I think a lot of a lot of us have really felt like we’ve gotten better,” she said.
Right-winger Rebecca Leslie, who was born and lives in Ottawa, said it’s been a long-term goal of hers to play in the Women’s World Championship.
Leslie, 24, represented Canada at the Under-18 World Championship in 2014 and played at the U-22 level from 2015-2018. If she makes the team this year, she’ll play in her first World Championship tournament at the senior level.
“Growing up, I’ve always wanted to be part of the national program,” Leslie said. “We’re lucky to have it on home soil this year. So that would be obviously really cool to experience it for the first time in Canada.”
Beyond this tournament, Leslie said she has more ambitious goals.
“Going to the Olympics is a dream I’ve had since I was a little girl,” Leslie said. “And so being able to continue to train and continue to work toward that goal is something I’m looking forward to doing.”
Geneviève Lacasse, a 31-year-old goalie who has spent past off-seasons training in Ottawa, is the third player with ties to the city who has been training with Team Canada.
Leslie, Rattray and Lacasse are also both members of the Professional Women’s Hockey Player Association (PWHPA), an organization dedicated to creating a sustainable professional league for women’s ice hockey in North America after the collapse of the Canadian Women’s Hockey League in 2019.
The PWHPA has since partnered with pro hockey organizations to host games across the U.S. as part of its Dream Gap Tour. On Feb. 28, after partnering with the NHL’s New York Rangers, the PWHPA hosted the first ever professional women’s hockey game at Madison Square Garden.
Leslie and Lacasse belong to the PWHPA’s Montreal hub, while Rattray is a part of its Toronto grouping. Canada’s COVID-19 restrictions have prevented them from playing any games in 2021.
With the long layoff — amplified by the fact Canada hasn’t won gold at the Women’s World Championship since 2012 — Rattray said the team is fired up for a chance at redemption.
“I think not winning in five years is enough motivation in itself,” Rattray said. “And I think also having that extra time to prepare gives us more hunger to go out and win.”
“A lot of us haven’t taken our eye off the goal no matter what, whether we’ve played games or not,” she said. “Whatever team we put together, we’ll be ready.”