“It’s like a corvette”: Canada adjusts quickly, beats Slovakia 4-0 in FISU Games opener

POTSDAM,  NY – Canada’s Marie-Phillip Poulin never won a FISU Games gold medal, but the 3x Olympic champion reached out to Emmy Fecteau when she was named captain of Team Canada for Lake Placid 2023, 

“She congratulated me, said good luck and that I should enjoy it and wanted to make sure I was okay with the role,” Fecteau told 49 Sports. 

With Poulin’s well-wishes, Canada got their start with a 4-0 win over Team Slovakia at SUNY-Potsdam’s Maxcy Hall, just an hour after Team Canada’s delegation tipped the flag bearers at the official reception. 

“There’s a massive legacy in Canada for hockey, so putting on the jersey, you don’t have to say too much, so everyone got those chills, and it means a lot for every single woman thats worn the jersey before them,” Canada’s head coach Greg Bowles told 49 Sports. “Everyone understands what [the jersey] stands for and the honour that it is.”

Alberta Pandas forward Madison Willan scored Canada’s first goal on the first shot of the game, finishing off a chance created by SMU Huskies forward Shae Demale, who cut in behind the goalline before finding Wilan in the slot. 

Toronto Varsity Blue Céline Frappier added to Canada’s lead early in the third, holding onto the puck before shifting to a forehand and beating Slovakia’s Adriana Stofankova over the shoulder to double Canada’s lead. 

While Canada scored early in the game, it wasn’t a cruise, as Slovakia was able to find early chances on the counter-attack, with Canada’s defensive pairs losing track of one another through the early going. 

Canada took a while to settle into their rhythms but found chemistry when they got on the powerplay midway through the period. Despite not scoring in the second, the Canadians were cleaner on the puck and the changes in the second. 

“I think we needed to get the first period out of the way, get everyone’s feet wet, get in the room and have a little chat and I think we got stronger as the game went on,” Demale said. “A little communication on what went well, what didn’t go well and what we could do moving forward.”

Canada finished the night with two quick goals, as Demale potted one of her own with a finish on a snapshot from the slot, just moments before Montreal Carabins forward Audrey-Ann Veillette found space on the left wing and slotted home a backhand shot. 

After spending the summer with the Canadian senior national team selection camp, UNB Reds netminder Kendra Woodland got the start for Canada. She was called upon several times in the first period, making quick saves from the slot, including a sprawling stop on Annamaria Surakova. 

She ended the day with eight saves before swapping with Saskatchewan Huskies netminder Camryn Drever, who made three saves in the final frame. 

“[Woodland] was unbelievable in the first two [periods], so to have Camryn come in in a 1-0 game, that was the plan all along, and she rose to the occasion,” Bowles said. “We have three outstanding goalies, so the fact we can do that confidently proves a lot.”

Demale Dazzles and Canada’s depth

Settling into a new team isn’t easy, but for Shae Demale, it seemed to happen swiftly as she continuously created chances for her Canadian teammates and ended the night with a couple of points. 

Notably, her goal, Canada’s third, came from a familiar spot to those who’ve seen her with the SMU Huskies, as she dropped to a knee and quickly finished after skating into open space and evading her defender in front of the goal.

“I saw the opening, and I took it, and I think that was good to get out of the way in the first game, and we’re going to keep going,” she said. “Every team here can compete with us, and we’ve got to make sure to bring our A-game every time we go out on the ice.”

Her speed and ability to release the puck quickly created difficulties for the Slovakian defence. As the night went on, they drew closer to her, opening up more Canadian teammates, which allowed all four lines to get on the scoresheet by night’s end. 

While every player on the Canadian team plays top-line minutes with their schools, there were  clear adjustments for playing on a U SPORTS All-Star team, and Demale helped power that transition against Slovakia.

“We got better today, and that team challenged us and forced us to develop good habits,” Bowles said. “For a team that’s coming together from across the country, that’s exactly what we needed, so it’s a great start.”

The powerplay wasn’t planned.

Ahead of their opener, Team Canada only had five days and four skates together as a group. With that, there’s not been time to get to special teams — yet it was a strength for the Canadian team. 

With Waterloo’s Carley Olivier and Saskatchewan’s Isabella Pozzi running the points with smooth skating skills, Canada threw the puck around quickly, while engaging every facet of their advantage. 

However, despite the smooth puck transitions, they couldn’t generate many threatening chances from the slot, which the coaching staff and players will look to work on. 

“I thought we were cheating a little bit in the first period and causing a few of our own problems, so we changed a few things… that’s what’s amazing about this team, it’s like driving a corvette — when you ad those changes, it’s applied right away,” Bowles said. 

“We haven’t even started to look at our powerplay; what you saw today was an uncanned and natural talent, so we’re at the end of phase one, and we’re starting to add special teams in phase two.”

With their first win secured, Canada moves to second in Group A, only behind Czechia, Canada’s next opponent, who defeated Team Great Britain 13-0 to open the tournament. That game is set for 4:30 pm ET on Jan. 14 at Maxcy Hall. 

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