Olympic Hockey Champs Tuning up for World Championships

JAY PEAK - Team Canada woman’s coach Dan Church is in his first year as head man of the national team. He has been around the block in terms of hockey experience however and knows the pressure that is on his team. ”We tell our team that pressure is a privilege," he said. "When you represent Canada, you are expected to play well. That pressure is a good thing. I don’t know if I agree that we are the favorite since we have had trouble winning the World’s lately. But we expect to play well each time out.”The rivalry with the USA has made both teams better. ”Everyone takes these games a lot more seriously than before," Church added. "Kids are starting to play at 4 or 5 years old. That gives them a big advantage over the competition and you see it all over the world. All the hockey programs have improved and everyone is playing better hockey now than ever before. You ask some of our older players and they will tell you that.”Church’s team is in good shape and today will be their last day at Jay Peak as they get ready for an opening match with the USA team Saturday night in Burlington. The International Ice Hockey Federation drastically altered the format of this year's World Championship, creating two pools based on rankings. Canada, the United States, Finland and Russia are in the A pool. Sweden, Switzerland, Slovakia and Germany are in the B pool. The top two teams in pool A get byes to the semis. The bottom two from Pool A meet the top two in Pool B in the quarterfinals. The bottom two left in the B pool play a best of three with the winner and get invited to the next World Championship.The game between the United States and Canada is already a sellout at the University of Vermont’s Gutterson Field house. The last time the two met in a big game was the 2010 Olympic final, a 2-0 Canada win for the gold"The US has a great team. Styles are a little different. We like to be 'skill and sandpaper.' That means to be skillful with the game but to be tough as well as physical. Our strength is to be aggressive and confident in what we do. We have some great talent and we have three excellent goalies. It’s tough to pick up because we have a wealth of strong goaltenders in our country. But it’s great to have that much competition for playing time.” If his team has something it can work on to be better, Church explains, “We don’t have a real weakness but we still have to remember to play a two-way game and not concentrate to much on offense or defense. We want balance and we want to play a two-way game.” Coaching an Olympic champion is a full-time occupation. There is really no off season. “You are always scouting, looking at prospects, working tournaments, traveling, going to camps," Church said. "The game is getting better by leaps and bounds and you have to stay on top it. The talent is out there even when we made cuts to form this team roster; any of the cuts could have made the team. It’s that close in talent.”Some of Church’s talent includes 21-year-old Marie-Philip Poulin. Poulin is from Beauceville, Quebec, and just completed her sophomore season at Boston University. It was a tough year as Poulin ruptured her spleen during BU’s second game of the season. She explained, “That kept me out for three months. On a team like this, you have to earn your spot and I had to work hard to make this team.” Poulin is counted on to be a premier sniper for the loaded Canadian roster. Her skating is her strength. ”I got into hockey later but already had my skating skills established. It was a matter of getting hockey skills to go with them," Poulin said.Five-foot-eleven Jennifer Wakefield also played for BU’s Terriers The 23-year-old has been playing hockey for over 14 years and is looking forward to many more. She is competitive and likes the pressure of being among the best. "When we enter a tournament, all you want is first place. We know we have to prove it every time we play.” The forward from Pickering, Ontario has played all over North America, but one of her fondest memories came when playing for the home team.“I had a great experience playing with our Ontario Province all star team. It was great playing against the rest of the provinces in the country.”Many of the players on the World Tournament roster will be together in 2014 for the Winter Olympics. That is a ways off, but each team is working towards that end with this upcoming series, a tremendous preview of what will happen in two years. While Canada has dominated the Olympics, the World’s Championship tournaments have been controlled by the U.S.A. Those two top programs collide head on beginning tomorrow evening at the Gutterson Field House.The eight-team World’s will conclude by April 14th. It’s a superb event to have in Burlington and promises to be well attended throughout. After all, how many times do you have the opportunity to see the world’s best players in your back yard