Captains change, but goal stays the same for Canada in women’s world hockey

ESPOO, Finland — The dynamic in Canada’s leadership shifted during the women’s world hockey championship.

The next two games determining if Canada wins a medal and what colour will have tense moments requiring the deft touch of leaders in the dressing room, on the bench and on the ice.

Brianne Jenner was handed the captaincy in Espoo after Marie-Philip Poulin reinjured a problem knee Monday.

Jenner is wearing the ‘C’ in a world championship for the first time in her 10-year career on the national team and after two seasons as an assistant captain.

“When you have a letter, you can’t really change being yourself,” Jenner said Friday.

“Usually there’s a reason that’s put on you, so I try not to do anything different. Just try to be a professional and do my job every day and expect the same of our teammates.

“We’re missing Mar, but we don’t need to change anything or reinvent the wheel without her.”

Canada takes on host Finland in one semifinal, while defending champion United States faces Russia in the other Saturday at Metro Areena.

The winners plays for gold and the losers for bronze Sunday.

Shannon Szabados will be Canada’s starting goalie. Noora Raty is expected to be in goal for the Finns.

Canada’s captain since 2015, Poulin wore the ‘C’ to start the tournament even though she didn’t play the first two games.

Poulin skated in practices and pre-game warmups, and was on the bench in her gear during games to support her teammates, while she neared a return to action.

But the buckling of Poulin’s left knee in her first period of her first game Monday precipitated a shuffling of letters.

Appearing in her first world championship for Canada, two-time Olympian Melodie Daoust of Valleyfield, Que., inherited an ‘A’ from Jenner.

“Letters on the jersey only shows part of the story,” Jenner said. “There are a lot of people that are leading in that room.”

The 27-year-old from Oakville, Ont., is the one of the most experienced players on the Canadian team, reaching the century mark in games in Espoo.

She’s also justifying her appointment with her on-ice performance.

Jenner, teammate Natalie Spooner and American forward Kendall Coyne Schofield are tied for the tournament lead in points with eight apiece.

Jenner has owned the faceoff dot with a tournament-leading success rate of 73 per cent.

“I think she’s playing the best hockey she’s really ever played,” Spooner said. “You want your leaders to lead the team off the ice and on the ice, so it’s great to see.

“Every game, she’s bringing it. Especially on that power play, I’m excited to be at the front of the net when she’s shooting at me.”

Jenner, Daoust, Spooner, assistant captain Jocelyne Larocque, forward Rebecca Johnston and defender Laura Fortino are among the current players who took their cues from retired four-time Olympic gold medallists Caroline Ouellette, Hayley Wickenheiser and Jayna Hefford.

While Poulin produced the late equalizer and overtime winner to get the gold in 2014, Spooner recalls how calm the three women were when the gold seemed to be slipping away.

“Caro, Hef, Wick were pretty level-headed and pretty calm,” Spooner said. “I think Jenner brings that calmness, but also that work ethic.”

Given the uncertainty surrounding Poulin’s knee, head coach Perry Pearn said the team prepared for her possible absence during training camp in Toronto.

Hefford and former captain Cassie Campbell spoke to the players there about the myriad of challenges they could encounter in their biggest international tournament of the year.

“(They) probably addressed a little bit what we would go through based on the fact that Marie-Philip was injured,” Pearn said. “We had an idea coming in how we had to deal with that.

“Leadership is a situational thing. Different people step up at different times. We have a group of six players that we’ve identified as our leadership group. They’ve been on point going back to Toronto.”

The world championship field expanded from eight to 10 countries this year.

So after five games in nine days, Canada needs two wins in as many days to take gold for the first time since 2012.

“Back-to-back games … our program and our team puts in a lot of work in the off-season so something like that doesn’t faze us,” Jenner said. “This is the best shape our national team has ever been in.”

Finland fell 6-1 to Canada to cap the group stage.

Defender Riikka Sallinen, the oldest player in the tournament at 45, says the host country is better-prepared to counter Canada’s hard brand of hockey on Saturday.

“We are confident, but we have to be humble too,” Sallinen said. “We have to do the dirty work.

“We are going to play defensively more than offensively, but then we have the opportunity to attack then we have to have courage to do it.”

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