Legends lead way at championships

Decorated veterans turn from Team Canada to Canadian university hockey

Calgary Dinos forward Hayley Wickenheiser scored a goal and an assist against Queen’s.
Calgary Dinos forward Hayley Wickenheiser scored a goal and an assist against Queen’s.
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TORONTO — Canadian women’s hockey icons were in direct competition at CIS nationals.

The Calgary Dinos and Toronto Varsity Blues — two of Queen’s opponents at last weekend’s CIS tournament — featured multiple veterans of Canada’s national women’s team.

The silver-medalist Dinos boast legendary forward Hayley Wickenheiser — widely considered to be the greatest women’s hockey player of all time. She’s played for Canada since 1993 and previously suited up in a Finnish men’s league.

Calgary’s coaching staff also features two standout former players — head coach Danielle Goyette and assistant coach Kelly Bechard.

Former Canadian forward Vicky Sunohara coaches the host Varsity Blues, along with assistant coach and current national team member Jayna Hefford.

As players, all five were instrumental to the development of Canada’s national women’s program. Since 1990, Canada has won 10 of 14 World Championships and claimed three of four Olympic gold medals.

“The experience we got playing for the national team, playing for so long together — it’s a friendship you’ll never lose,” said Goyette, who suited up for Canada from 1991 to 2007. “We wish each other good luck, but at the end of the day, if we have to coach against each other, we’re going for a win — we’re still competitive.” Goyette and Wickenheiser played together for Team Canada for 13 seasons. Their partnership was reignited in 2010, with Wickenheiser joining Calgary as a player under Goyette’s leadership.

Wickenheiser was a First-Team All-Canadian this season, a year after helping the Dinos clinch their first-ever national championship.

“I played a long time with Hayley — I think we respect each other,” Goyette said. “Sometimes, it might be easier because I know her — how she reacts under pressure, how she’s going to respond to a little thing, which buttons you have to push as a coach for players to get going.”

Wickenheiser and the Dinos didn’t face Toronto at this year’s championships, but Varsity Blues coach Sunohara said she would have relished such a matchup.

“Having played with [Wickenheiser] for so many years, we’d try to shut her down,” Sunohara said. “[Calgary would] be a tough team to play, but I wanted to play them, just because of all my friends that are with that team.”

Sunohara followed Goyette to the CIS in 2011, joining the Varsity Blues as head coach after 18 seasons with the national team.

She said the parity of CIS play appeals to fans, players and coaches alike.

While Toronto was ranked fifth in the OUA at the end of this year, they automatically qualified for nationals as tournament hosts, eventually placing fourth in the country.

“We go to every game not knowing what the outcome is going to be. The hockey just keeps getting better,” Sunohara said. “Anybody that’s come to watch this week is really, really impressed.

“To me, it’s just as exciting as a World Championships.”

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