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Friends to foes and friends again as Canadian women's hockey team downs PWHPA 5-1

CALGARY — The Canadian women's hockey team's 5-1 win over the PWHPA all-stars Saturday was a win-win in the eyes of Hockey Hall of Famer Jayna Hefford.

CALGARY — The Canadian women's hockey team's 5-1 win over the PWHPA all-stars Saturday was a win-win in the eyes of Hockey Hall of Famer Jayna Hefford.

Almost every single player on the ice was a member of the Professional Women's Hockey Players' Association that she leads.

The PWHPA rose from the ashes of the Canadian Women's Hockey League that folded in 2019 after a dozen years.

The PWHPA runs showcase tournaments and games for members to drum up support for a sustainable women's pro league that offers the same competitive and financial support the male pros have. 

The majority of national-team players in Canada and the United States are PWHPA members, but aren't able to participate in PWHPA events this winter while they're in residence with their respective Olympic squads.

So a two-game series pitting PWHPA all-stars against the Canadian women's team in front of fans at the Markin MacPhail Centre felt like a bonanza for Hefford.

"People have a chance to see the national team play, not enough, but they see them play," Hefford said. "I think this shows the talent within the sport runs deeper than just the top 20 players for each country.

"These women are all fighting for the same thing, no matter what team they're on today."

Natalie Spooner and Sarah Fillier each contributed a goal and an assist to Canada's win Saturday two days after edging the all-stars 3-2 in the first game.

Jamie Lee Rattray, Rebecca Johnston and Kristin O'Neill also scored and Victoria Bach had two assists for Canada. Goaltender Emerance Maschmeyer stopped 12 of 13 shots for the win.

Jessie Eldridge scored for the all-stars and goalie Kassidy Sauvé turned away 46 of 51 shots in the loss.

Canada's women have been centralized in Calgary since July preparing for February's Winter Olympics in Beijing.

Three of 29 players invited to centralize were released earlier this month, which left 26 still trying out for a 23-player Olympic roster to be named later this month.

Hefford is deeply familiar with that process having won four Olympic gold medals with Canada during her career.

The PWHPA's all-star roster featured women who previously played for Canada in world championships or Olympic Games — Loren Gabel, Sarah Potomak, Brigette Lacquette and Laura Fortino — as well as Eldridge who was among the players released from Canada's centralized roster.

"I think there's a lot of emotions right now with players on both sides," Hefford said. "In our room, there's a lot of people who have a connection to the (Canadian) program. 

"They've been there and are maybe trying to get back, so definitely emotional, but any time we get to a PWHPA event, there's this overarching mission and unity among the women."

Post-game hugs and chats between opposing players reflected that solidarity as both teams gathered for a team photo.

"We're (in) such a bubble here in Calgary, we're focusing on ourselves, but we're part of the PWHPA," Canadian captain Marie-Philip Poulin said. "We want to create that league.

"We're so lucky to have these ladies where they're still keeping that association alive. I acknowledge that so much."

The PWHPA held a showcase tournament Nov. 12-14 in Truro, N.S., and another is scheduled Dec. 18-19 in Toronto featuring a final at Scotiabank Arena.

A planned January series in Japan against that country's national women's team was cancelled because of COVID-19 travel restrictions, but Hefford says more events are in the works for 2022.

The Canadian women resume their Rivalry Series against the United States on Wednesday in St. Louis, followed by another game against the Americans there Friday. Canada leads the nine-game series with a record of 2-1-1, but has lost two in a row at home.

The two games against the all-stars were Canadian defender Meaghan Mikkelson's first with the national side since she sustained a serious knee injury in May. 

Since her surgery in June, the three-time Olympian has been working to return in time for a chance to play in a fourth.

"All I asked for was a chance and an opportunity," said the 36-year-old defender from St. Albert, Alta. 

"I've definitely taken the time to acknowledge that what I've done is already a massive accomplishment. It was improbable that I was going to be able to make this happen.

"Yes, I'm happy to be back and have two games under my belt, but I'm even more excited now to play against the Americans."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 11, 2021.

Donna Spencer, The Canadian Press

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