As the saying goes, “time flies when you’re having fun”. It’s hard to believe that we’re already nearly four months into our Olympic preparation. It seems like just yesterday the coaches, support staff and players were gathering in Calgary to begin our centralization process and our preparation to win gold.
In the last year of every quadrennial, the national women’s hockey team centralizes in Calgary, Alberta to train, practice and play as a team for the full year. In the other three years of the cycle, the team only comes together for short periods of time and short-term competitions. The centralization process is a great advantage for Canada in our Olympic preparation.
The process began by selecting 27 players from across the country that came together for a month long training camp in Penticton, British Columbia from mid-May to mid-June, which the players affectionately call our “boot camp.” The players trained from 7 a.m. until about 8:30 p.m. six days a week. While the aim is to have a really good training base, we also look to create a challenging environment to push staff and players beyond their comfort zone, as well as creating an opportunity to grow our team cohesion. We really look to influence the team physically, mentally, and socially. While minor hockey coaches may not have the budget to go away for a month, think of activities and events that you could do with your teams to help to develop fitness, skill, leadership, and team chemistry.
In early September we had the opportunity to travel to Sochi, Russia for a familiarization camp and play two exhibition games against Russia in the Shayba Arena where all the round robin games will take place. For any of you who have mental picture of Russia being a cold, hard, desolate place like is often depicted in the movies your perception of Sochi couldn’t be farther from reality. Sochi is actually in a sub-tropical climate. When we stepped off the plane on September 2nd, after 23 hours of travel, we were greeted with 20°C temperatures and there are palm trees right outside the airport. During the Games in February, the temperature will be between 5 and 15°C. Sochi was like Florida, a vacation destination with a boardwalk and beaches and Mediterranean cuisine.
All of the athletic venues are already completed for the Sochi 2014 Winter Games. We were fortunate enough to be able to train and play in the Shayba Arena and use the dressing room we will have for the Olympics in February. The trip was great because we were able to test everything out in advance of the ‘big show’ later in the season. Familiarity is a really important step in the preparation for the Games. It was great for the players and staff to be immersed in the environment so that we can start to formulate a plan to help avoid distractions during the biggest competition of our lives.
Since returning from Russia, our playing schedule has really ramped up. In the first part of the season we have already played 19 games – two against Russia in Sochi, two against the USA and the rest in the Alberta Midget Hockey League (AMHL) against the boy’s midget AAA programs. Playing in the AMHL is amazing preparation for our team. The games are played at such a fast pace and the size, speed, and skill of the opponents really forces our players to elevate their games and execute our system of play in order to be successful.
Adversity is a really important element in a team’s success. In the early part of our season we’ve challenged the players with all different kinds of adversity – a rigorous training schedule, high standards and expectations, teams that are physically bigger and stronger than we are – all with the express purpose of helping us grow toward our goal of winning gold.
And now, I’m looking forward to the next part of our “Road to Sochi”.