Helping to grow the game

Lucas Punkari/Daily Herald Team Canada defender Renata Fast celebrates with teammates Kristin O'Neill and Loren Gabel after scoring a shorthanded goal Sunday night.

Sunday’s trip to the Art Hauser Centre had two purposes for Canada’s women’s hockey team.

Not only did they tune-up for this week’s Four Nations Cup in Saskatoon with a 6-0 win over Finland, but it also gave the team a chance to pay a visit to Prince Albert.

“It’s always fun to see the girls out there in the stands with their eyes wide open and dreaming of playing for this team one day,” forward and team captain Marie-Philip Poulin said.

“To have the fans behind us is always great and to see the young girls be a part of the event is a real pleasure for us.”

The chance to see their hockey idols in person was noticeable throughout the night as Prince Albert Minor Hockey players were involved in the opening ceremonies and fans waited for almost an hour after the game to get autographs from the team.

“I think being able to bring the team to smaller towns and cities across Canada is part and parcel of what the women’s program is all about,” head coach Perry Pearn said.

“It’s all part of growing the game and what we like to do is to expose international women’s hockey to communities that may not have seen this high level of hockey before.”

Lucas Punkari/Daily Herald
Forward Natalie Spooner powers her way around a Finnish player during Canada’s 6-0 win at the Art Hauser Centre.

Sunday’s game featured a dominating performance by Canada’s special teams units, as they scored three times on the power play and also got a shorthanded goal from blueliner Renata Fast.

“That’s something the team has really been working on since the start of our fall camp as we get ready for the tournament,” Pearn said.

“I thought our puck handling and puck movement was really good, especially with our top line of Poulin, Rebecca Johnston and Melodie Daoust.”

Johnston and Daoust led the way on offence with a goal and two assists, while Poulin and Sarah Nurse had a goal and an assist each.

Natalie Spooner rounded out the scoring for Canada, who received a 17-save shutout performance from netminders Shannon Szabados and Emerance Maschmeyer.

Eveliina Suonpaa turned aside 25 shots for Finland in the loss.

Sunday’s game also served as a learning experience for the seven members of Canada’s roster, as goaltender Shea Tiley, blueliners Jaime Bourbonnais and Katelyn Gosling, and forwards Kristin O’Neill, Sarah Fillier, Loren Gabel and Victoria Bach will all be making their debuts with the program this week.

“I think this was a really important game for them to get the jitters out of the way before the tournament starts,” Nurse said. “They are all fitting in right now and they aren’t missing a beat.

“The new skaters bring so much speed and offensive skill to our lineup and it’s going to be exciting to watch them showcase that here this week.”

Canada will open tournament play Tuesday night when they take on Sweden at the SaskTel Centre.

The round-robin schedule will get underway earlier in the day when Finland goes up against the United States.

The tournament will run until Saturday night, with the gold medal game getting underway at 8 p.m.