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Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Canada's three Oly goalies do battle

Fierce competition from now to Sochi

Posted: 08/20/2013 1:00 AM | Comments: 0

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CALGARY -- Three goalies already know they'll represent Canada in women's hockey at the 2014 Winter Olympics, which is a certainty their teammates currently don't possess.

Each country will have three goaltenders on their 21-player rosters at the Olympic women's hockey tournament in Sochi, Russia, next February.

So when Canadian head coach Dan Church invited Charline Labonte of Boisbriand, Que., Edmonton's Shannon Szabados and Genevieve Lacasse of Kingston, Ont., to try out for the Canadian team, it effectively punched their ticket to Sochi.

The three women insist that doesn't take pressure off their shoulders. The stakes are different, but no less high in their minds.

Nine defencemen are chasing six jobs and 15 forwards are vying for the dozen openings on the Olympic roster. Church intends to name his Olympic team by the end of December.

The skaters chosen will dress for every game in Sochi. The goaltenders don't have that luxury and are thus competing for Olympic starts.

"People say 'you guys are lucky you are going' but there's only going to be one of us playing in that gold-medal game," Lacasse says. "All three of us, that's our goal, to be the starting goalie in the gold-medal game."

Canada will meet reigning world champion U.S. in a preliminary-round game Feb. 12 in Sochi. Finland and Switzerland are also in Canada's pool. The Canadians and Americans are expected to meet again for gold Feb. 20.

Pecking order

If Labonte, Szabados and Lacasse haven't established a pecking order by the end of December, their internal competition could continue after the team is named.

"It will depend on where we're at and how they're playing," Church says. "There may be competition between all three of them still going into January. It may be two of them have moved ahead of the other."

The majority of players trying out for Canada's Olympic team are from outside of Alberta and have relocated to Calgary for the next six months. They're working out daily and are playing intra-squad games this week.

The women will play between 50 and 60 games before departing for Sochi.

Included in that schedule are games against Alberta midget triple-A men's teams, as well as eight games against the U.S. women -- six exhibition games and two at the Four Nations Cup in November.

In a non-Olympic year, the women's world championships and the annual Four Nations Cup provide less than 10 international starts in total for Canada's three goalies.

So Labonte, Szabados and Lacasse will have opportunities this winter they don't normally get to play themselves up, or down, the national team's depth chart.

"Going into the year, it's wide open," Church said. "In my mind, all three are on equal footing right now."

Szabados played herself from third string behind Labonte and Kim St. Pierre to Canada's starter during the last centralized season of 2009-10.

She made 28 saves in a 2-0 shutout of the Americans in the gold-medal final in Vancouver and has been Canada's starter in all three world championship finals since. But she knows the spot is up for grabs.

"That's my goal this year, to work hard to become that number one," Szabados said.

-- The Canadian Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 20, 2013 D2

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