On the surface, the year 2011 may seem like a failure to the Canadian women’s team. Despite some great performances (Kelly Babstock being named ECAC Player of the Year, Meghan Agosta becoming the NCAA leading scorer, and Hillary Pattenden becoming the NCAA all-time wins leader), there were some heartbreaking events. It began with the United States usurping Canada (the defending champs) at the IIHF Under 18 worlds. Despite a gold medal for Canada at the MLP Cup, silver seemed to be the defining colour of the year.
In April, the United States bested Canada at the IIHF World Championships. This event was preceeded by another painful loss. In selecting the 2011 Patty Kazmaier Award (given to the top NCAA female player), American Meghan Duggan beat out Meghan Agosta to claim the prize.
Several months later, another setback was endured. August 2011 marked the first IIHF 8 Nations (also promoted as 12 Nations) Tournament. In the round robin, Canada suffered its second ever loss at the hands of Sweden. Despite Meghan Agosta having a strong showing at the tourney, Canada showed they were not invincible. The year concluded with a difficult overtime loss in the gold medal game of the 2010 4 Nations Cup.
Looking at the year deeper, it was definitely a year of transition. For the first time in many years, there were numerous vacancies on the roster. At the beginning of the year, Becky Kellar, Gina Kingsbury, Carla MacLeod and Colleen Sostorics announced their retirements. No team, no matter how good can replace so many top notch athletes (especially with over 40 seasons of combined experience), especially on defense. The effect to the team was compounded by the retirement of Jennifer Botterill (four time Winter Games medallist), and the personal leave of absence of goaltender Kim St. Pierre (statistically, the greatest female goaltender in IIHF history).
Despite the deficiencies on defense, there were several highlights during the year. Natalie Spooner has emerged as an impact player who can pick up where Jennifer Botterill left off. The national team sees a reunion of sorts as former Mercyhurst player Meghan Agosta was reunited with Mercyhurst graduates Vicki Bendus (the 2010 Patty Kazmaier Award winner), and Jesse Scanzano. If the three can recapture their glories from Mercyhurst, there will be many golden moments for Canada in the near future. In addition, many prominent superstars from the Cornell Big Red women’s program (such as Brianne Jenner and Lauriane Rougeau) are getting the opportunity to show their skills with the national team.
Although Canada’s performance at the Eight (or Twelve) Nations Tournament was not the desired result, the disappointment can be set aside by the fact that Canada gave three young, promising goaltenders (CIS legend Liz Knox, Harvard graduate Christine Kessler, and Providence Friars superstar Genevieve Lacassse) the opportunity to don the Canadian jersey. By being given the keys to occupy the crease for Canada, those keys may open the door to potential roster spots at the 2014 or 2018 Winter Games.
The new faces and the transitions involved put the Canadian team at a tremendous disadvantage. In observing the year, there were some key findings. The opportunities given to these young players to compete at a higher level were irreplaceable. In witnessing past glories, these young players understand that what was accomplished was easier than it looked. Now they understand that they cannot take wearing the red and white for granted. This is the wakeup call for any player hoping for a future with the national team to pick up their game and rise to the occasion.
The disappointments of 2011 may lead to the glories of tomorrow. Should greater success emanate in the future, Canada’s women will look at the growing pains of 2011, and learn that failure is not fatal.