THE stress is both enormous and constant. The days can be long and gruelling and there is either heartache or pure joy at the end of the process.
And Bailey Bram -- one of four Manitobans still in the fight for spots on the Canadian women's Olympic hockey team -- is loving absolutely every second of it.
"Oh yeah... it's extremely stressful," said Bram, a proud product of Ste. Anne and Balmoral Hall, via telephone from the national team's base in Calgary. "But it's also kinda cool that every day you know you have to come and leave everything on the ice and give it your all.
"You just never know when that cut is coming, when the coaches are watching you... every day you have to give your best. I think it's great because all these girls are working so hard it should make us that much better for Sochi."
Bram, along with Jocelyne Larocque of Ste. Anne, Waterhen's Brigette Lacquette and Jenelle Kohanchuk of Winnipeg, has been living in Calgary full-time since early August as part of Hockey Canada's all-in approach to building the women's team.
They head to Sochi, Russia, this Sunday for an exhibition tournament and will play in the 4 Nations Cup in Lake Placid, N.Y., in November as well as exhibition tilts against the United States and close to 30 games against AAA boys teams from the Alberta Midget Hockey League.
The official Olympic roster likely won't be announced until December, meaning a handful of the players sweating and toiling every day won't be going to Sochi in February.
"I try not to think about the cuts and play as I would on every other team and try to get comfortable," said Bram. "I know I have a lot of friends and family who are supportive, and if I ever need somebody to talk to they are there for me. All I can do is take it day by day and try not to jump too far ahead of myself.
"It's the experience of a lifetime being here right now."
Bram is drawing on her experience with the national team in the last two world championships as proof -- both to herself and the coaching staff -- that she belongs on a roster that still includes 13 players who suited up for Canada at the Olympics in 2010.
"It definitely helps get you a little more comfortable and also helps with the confidence, which is probably one of the most important things at this level because there are so many girls who can play here," said Bram. "That's an essential part: having the confidence and belief in yourself to do it and that comes with time. I'm getting close to being able to play without thinking about it or worrying about screwing up or what the vets might be thinking. It takes a long time, but it's coming around.
"Last night I was thinking about it. It's like, 'This is pretty cool. How many people get the chance to go to Russia to play in a hockey tournament?' That's pretty big. I mean, some time this week we're supposed to have a chance to meet the men's team... Sidney Crosby and Jonathan Toews... that's pretty surreal."
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