OTTAWA — Hayley Wickenheiser intends to play the rest of the world women’s hockey championship even though she’s in pain.
Canada’s captain and all-time leading scorer skated with the team Sunday for the first time since injuring her back during the tournament-opener Tuesday against the United States.
“There’s really no risk of further injury,” Wickenheiser said following practice. “They’ve done what they can do to minimize the pain. It’s just a matter of being able to play through the pain and I think I can do that. I can’t really do any more damage to it.
“I feel like I’m going to be able to finish out the tournament.”
Canada faces Russia and the United States takes on Finland in Monday’s semifinals with the winners advancing to Tuesday’s championship game.
Wickenheiser skated off the ice and walked to the dressing room in the second period when Canada was trailing the Americans 2-0. She did not return to the game. The hosts rallied to win 3-2 in a shootout.
Wickenheiser, 34, was scratched from a 13-0 win over Switzerland and an 8-0 victory against Finland in the preliminary round. During her absence from the lineup, assistant captain Jayna Hefford joined Wickenheiser as Canada’s all-time leaders in games played at 248.
“The team has been playing really well and doing what they have to do,” Wickenheiser said. “I just have to come back with good energy and do what I can do to contribute on the ice. I feel like I can go full tilt. It’s up to the coach.”
Should Canada take control of the game early against Russia, expect head coach Dan Church to limit Wickenheiser’s ice time in preparation for the championship game.
“I think we’re playing pretty well right now,” Church said. “She would definitely help us so how we’re going to utilize her, I think we’ll play that by ear and how she feels after today’s skate and moving into tomorrow will help form our game plan on that.”
Canada’s 23 players at this world championship, plus another five, will congregate in Calgary in August to train full-time for the 2014 Winter Olympics. The head coach says he took into consideration the future demands on Wickenheiser’s body.
“I wouldn’t want to take away our long-term success for a short-term gain, so I definitely considered and weighed out all those options,” Church said.
“I don’t feel we’re putting her into a position of jeopardy where she’s going to get further injured and miss a long time and hamper her preparation and our preparation for next Olympics.”
But Church suggested to Wickenheiser on Saturday that she wear a yellow non-contact jersey in Sunday’s practice and she refused.
“We’re playing tomorrow and if I’m going to play tomorrow, I should probably have some contact today,” Wickenheiser said.
A knee injury she suffered in the semifinal of the Canadian university women’s championship prevented her from playing in the final for the University of Calgary Dinos. Wickenheiser wasn’t sure if the two injuries were related.
“It’s tough when you’re trying to play with a full brace on and your mechanics aren’t quite the same and it’s pulling and pushing in different areas,” she mused. “It might also just be a freak thing, twisting the wrong way or something like that too.
“I don’t know how or why, but I got it under control now and hopefully I’ll be able to perform.”
Canada finished first in Pool A with eight points and earned a bye to the semifinal. Russia topped Pool B with nine and beat Switzerland 2-1 in the quarter-final for their fourth win of the tournament.
In the second year under this format, the top four ranked countries in the world at in Pool A and the fifth to eighth seeds are in Pool B.
That adds another marquee game between Canada and the U.S. to the tournament. It also means the bottom two teams in Pool B don’t face the top two countries, which eliminates a couple of embarrassing scores.
Canada thumped Russia 14-1 in last year’s world championship in Burlington, Vt., for the most lopsided score between the two countries in a dozen meetings. Russia was the fourth seed in Pool A in Burlington and went through the tournament without one win.
Once Sochi, Russia, won the bid to host the 2014 Winter Games, the Russian Ice Hockey Federation finally starting paying attention to women’s hockey. Their stated goal is a bronze medal at the Olympics.
The team has a new coach this year and former NHL player Alexei Yashin was appointed general manager of the team in December.
“It’s always great, Russia against Canada,” Yashin said. “They are a very strong team, but for us we can use it as a way to learn to play and prepare ourselves for the Olympics.
“I understand that Canada is probably the best team in the tournament. For us, we just want to compete and play hard.”
Goaltending has been a weakness for the Russian women, but that has improved. Even though the Canadians are heavy favourites to win the semifinal, assistant captain Caroline Ouellette expects to see a stronger Russian squad than the one Canada thrashed a year ago.
“I can honestly say I don’t think about what happened the year before,” Ouellette said. “I look at how the team has been doing in the tournament and that’s what matters to me.
“They’ve been doing really well so we owe them that respect and we know we cannot take anyone for granted. They’re going to battle. They’re proud of what they’ve done and they should be.
“It’s going to be a good test for us to see where Russia is at. We haven’t watched them play. We’ve heard from our scouts they’re better at every position and I’m really excited for that.”