Team Canada celebrates the game winning goal against Team USA during overtime National Women’s Team series hockey action in Edmonton, Alta., on Sunday December 17, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson

Fresh off U.S. series, decision time coming for Canada’s women’s hockey team

EDMONTON — Laura Schuler remembers how anxious she felt before her meeting with coach Shannon Miller to learn if she had made Canada’s first Olympic women’s hockey team.

“The set-up is similar to what they do now where you’re down to your final selections and the core of the team that is still remaining gets individually brought into a room one by one and you’re there with the head coach and two assistants,” Schuler said. “Obviously then your fate is determined.

“I remember being very nervous before walking in the room.”

Schuler received happy news on that day two decades ago as she and the Canadian team went onto win silver at the 1998 Games in Nagano, Japan. She also knows what it feels like to not make the cut as she was left off the 1994 world championship team.

The first former player to coach the Olympic team, the 47-year-old from Toronto is now the one making those decisions of joy and heartbreak ahead of February’s Winter Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

Twenty-eight women were summoned to try out for the team attempting to defend the gold won in an overtime thriller against the U.S. in 2014.

After a gruelling boot camp in June, the women congregated in Calgary in August to begin full-time preparation for Pyeongchang.

Schuler, assistants Dwayne Gylywoychuk of Winnipeg and Troy Ryan of Spryfield, N.S., and general manager Melody Davidson of Oyen, Alta., have been scrutinizing players in practices and games.

Forward Amy Potomak of Aldergrove, B.C. and defender Erin Ambrose of Keswick, Ont., were released Nov. 20.

Three more skaters will be cut to get to the roster of three goaltenders and 20 skaters, compared to the previous limit of three and 18 in 2014.

Goaltenders Shannon Szabados of Edmonton, Genevieve Lacasse of Kingston, Ont., and Ann-Renee Desbiens of Malbaie, Que., will be Canada’s three goalies in Pyeongchang. They’re competing for coveted starts.

Having experienced both acceptance and rejection, Schuler says there is no way to make what will be painful for some players less painful.

“No, absolutely not,” she said. “Obviously we had to let go of two players there and it was one of the hardest things we had to do as a staff and as a team because they become a part of your family.

“It’s a matter of finding what works into your puzzle. Getting all the pieces to come together, it’s a really challenging process and what lies ahead of us is really tough.

“It’s so close with our players. That’s just what’s going to be so hard. It’s so close. I’m talking paper thin.”

Hockey Canada has until Jan. 21 to submit its women’s roster to the Canadian Olympic Committee.

If history is an indicator, the Olympic team could be named as early as this week. Players in previous centralizations have gone home for their holiday break knowing their status.

“We have no idea when releases are going to be made,” two-time Olympic defender Meaghan Mikkelson said.

“It’s my third time around and it’s still stressful. It’s still hard. If you think you might be on the team, you want to know if you’re going to be on the power play or the penalty kill.

“You’re always thinking about one thing or another, but speaking from personal experience, I’ve just tried to never get complacent and just to try to stay in the moment because you can make it a lot harder on yourself than it needs to be.”

The Canadian women wrapped up their six-game pre-Olympic series against the U.S. with a 2-1 overtime win Sunday in Edmonton. Canada took the series 5-1.

The women have back-to-back games against male midget triple-A teams Tuesday and Wednesday. Since the 2006 Olympics, the women have made Alberta Midget Hockey League games part of their centralization schedule.

Rookie defender Micah Zandee-Hart of Saanichton, B.C., says she’s tried to concentrate on her performance and not think about the final cuts.

“There’s definitely ups and downs. I won’t lie to you,” the 20-year-old said.

“There have been times throughout this process that has been on my mind, but I think going into these last few games, it’s really important to play your best game and not really think about that happening, even though we know it is going to happen.”

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