Boot camp first hurdle for Canadian women

Cassie Campbell-Pascall chuckled when she saw pictures on social media of the Canadian women’s hockey team with their loaded shopping carts.

“You laugh because you know what they’re in for,” the former captain said. “They have these big smiles on their faces, but that’s not going to last for long.”

The 28 players invited to try out for the 2018 Olympic team are currently toiling in an 18-day boot camp in Fredericton.

Boot camp has been part of the women’s Olympic preparation since the first one in Valcartier, Que., prior to the 2002 Winter Games, where Canada won the first of four straight gold medals in women’s hockey.

Campbell-Pascall, who captained the women in 2002 and 2006 before retiring, says the grocery run upon landing at their boot-camp location is the fun part.

The women load up on food to fuel them for a marathon of workouts and activities, and also a treat or two for when they hit the wall mentally and physically.

“At some point during the camp, everyone breaks. It’s just inevitable,” Campbell-Pascall said. “We’re so competitive. You almost kill each other.”

It’s not one challenge, but the accumulation of them that can cause a player to emotionally fly apart.

Campbell-Pascall’s breaking point in Prince Edward Island in 2005 was a flat tire in a bike race with about five kilometres to go on the second-last day of camp.

The Calgarian was so fed up she threw her bike into the trees and was doubled to the finish line by teammate Gillian Apps. Campbell-Pascall was then told to go back and retrieve the bike.

Hockey Canada designs boot camp to push the women out of their comfort zone. In addition to skating and weight-training sessions, they might be rock climbing, kickboxing or racing triathlons.

“There’s always some sort of game,” Campbell-Pascall said. “There’s always some sort of outcome, a winner and a loser. You don’t want to lose.”

Apps also remembers the P.E.I. camp because she’d raced 100 kilometres on the bike thinking she would be sleeping in a hotel bed that night, only to discover she’d be sharing a tent with Gillian Ferrari and Hayley Wickenheiser.

“I swear it was a maximum two-person tent,” the three-time Olympian said. “It was raining and it was just one of those things, when you’re pushed beyond your limits physically and then you get thrown in a tent … it didn’t kill me.”

After breaking camp next week, the 2018 hopefuls will head to their respective homes before reuniting Aug. 1 in Calgary.

They’ll train every day together and play about 50 games prior to the Winter Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea, next February. The team is expected to be named in December.

“Boot camp is the same time length as the Olympics,” Campbell-Pascall said. “If you can get through three weeks of hell at boot camp, then you can get through three weeks of anything at the Olympics. I think that’s the essence of them.”

She remembers watching Canadian soldiers fall to their knees in exhaustion after running an obstacle course with heavy packs in steaming temperatures in Valcartier.

According to Campbell-Pascall, coach Danielle Sauvageau turned the women and said: “OK girls. Your turn.”

“We were like ‘What? Are you crazy?’” Pascall recalled.

Apps, from Unionville, Ont., was a veteran in Penticton, B.C., in 2013 after three previous book camps, but she hit a wall in another bike race.

“We had to do this ride up Apex Mountain. It was pouring rain and they said ‘We’re going ahead with it,’” Apps said. ”I don’t know if my nutrition was off or what was going on. It was probably the hardest thing mentally for me to just grind out.

“It was one of those things where I really had to rely on my teammates to help me out.”

Current players such as Meghan Agosta, Natalie Spooner and goaltender Shannon Szabados are also boot-camp veterans, but a dozen players in Fredericton are experiencing the grind for the first time.

“These camps, honestly, they really bring the group together,” Campbell-Pascall said. “It really teaches you how to pick each other up.

“For some people, it’s throw them a granola bar. For some people, you really need to take them aside because they’re really losing their mind.”

Donna Spencer, The Canadian Press

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