Bootcamp challenge pushes players

Boot camp ensures players realize what it means to play for Canada’s Olympic hockey team.

HAYLEY WICKENHEISER is known for having a strong work ethic. Her drive to continue improving pushes her teammates to do the same. Wickenheiser and Canada’s Olympic women’s team will be training in Penticton until June 19. Below

HAYLEY WICKENHEISER is known for having a strong work ethic. Her drive to continue improving pushes her teammates to do the same. Wickenheiser and Canada’s Olympic women’s team will be training in Penticton until June 19. Below

Boot camp ensures players realize what it means to play for Canada’s Olympic hockey team.

Goalie Shannon Szabados said it’s been tough but added for them to grow as a group, “It’s something that is going to be crucial to our success in Russia.”

Players just take a day-by-day approach.

Szabados and defenceman Catherine Ward are among 27 players named to the centralization roster that started training in Penticton May 27 until June 19.

“It’s been busy days, but it’s a really great learning experience for us, I think, working together,” said Ward during day four. “Pushing each other really gives us an edge. Some days are going to be a grind more than others. We’re having fun still.”

Players participate in on- and off-ice training sessions and the schedule is rigorous, just as it will be during their centralization in Calgary. The focus is on their overall development.

“This camp will be a great opportunity for our team to create an environment which challenges the athletes and staff to push themselves outside of their comfort zones, and to prepare them for the challenges they’ll face during the Olympic year,” said coach Dan Church, in a release.

Szabados, fresh off helping the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology Ooks men’s team capture their first Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference championship in 16 years, said those who have been through it know what to expect.

“I think the rookies were a little scared coming into it,” said Szabados, who became the first female to play on NAIT’s men’s hockey team. “It’s nice for us veterans to kind of know and we can help the younger players through it. At the same time, we’re all going to have our bad days. We rely on the young ones to kind of pick us up too.”

When she was a rookie, Szabados recalls the influence that Hayley Wickenheiser had on her.

“I didn’t really know anything,” said Szabados, who had Wickenheiser for a roommate. “It was nice to kind of see how hard she works. We always bug her that she has secret work outs. She’s always doing something, always trying to get better. She bikes to the rink everyday. She definitely sets the bar as working hard and trying to get better.”

Szabados said the boot camps can be a wake up call.

“We like to think that we train hard, in season and off season, but when you come here … I think we woke up at 6 a.m. and other than a little lunch break and supper break we will be getting home around 9 p.m. It’s different than most of us have ever experienced. I don’t know if anyone has puked yet. There were some tears last year. Some not finer moments in our lives but that is part of pushing us out of our comfort zone.”

Teammates are never alone in tough moments. If someone does mentally break down and cry, support isn’t far.

“It’s just to cheer her on, everything will be fine, just have to get through it,” said Ward, who has been on the national team since 2009.

Going through the camp helps the players learn about each other, which becomes critical during game situations.

“Looking at Russia, not everyone is going to maybe perform the best when they want,” said the soft-spoken Ward. “Maybe next shift have a better shift if they made a mistake. Some have different qualities. Some have different strengths. I think just learning about that is important when it really matters in the end.”

On one of the first few days of the camp, the group teamed up with Okanagan Hockey Academy players for an Amazing Race.

“I think it was a little harder than we thought it would be,” joked Szabados. “You hear Amazing Race and we are all excited. It was tough. We biked all around town. So thank you to Penticton for dealing with us.”