It’s the day before the finals of the 2000 world women’s hockey championship in Mississauga. The tournament is proudly hosted by the Ontario Women’s Hockey Association, the largest women’s hockey organization in the world, run by Fran Rider and Pat Nicholls. Mississauga Mayor Hazel McCallion, who played professional hockey in Montreal in the ’40s, has made this tournament on home soil very special. She, along with OWHA, was instrumental in pushing women’s hockey to be included at the Olympic Games.
The world championship final is tomorrow and assistant coach Karen Hughes, with her shy, friendly face, escorts Kim St-Pierre and me to the coaches’ room. It’s been three months since my huge win on NHL all-star weekend. We have just finished our semifinal game against Finland. Kim played and we won a close one, 3-2, the home crowd cheering every time we touched the puck. In the round robin against Finland, the Americans had to come back from a 3-1 deficit going into the third period but then easily made it through their semi against Sweden, setting up a Canada-USA final. Karen walks us the length of the hallway underneath the stands at the Hershey Centre.
Kim stopped 25 shots today and made key saves at opportune times, but as we walk towards our fate, I’m not worried. She played well, but not well enough to usurp me from my spot. We’ve won every game I’ve played in and I haven’t let in a goal with Team Canada all season. Kim was great in December at the 3 Nations Cup in Montreal, playing before her hometown crowd dramatically by winning a 3-2 shootout against the Americans, but I won at the TSN Challenge in January, 6-0, and I haven’t let in a goal in this tournament or in the pre-tournament games.
“You guys wait here.” Karen enters the room alone, leaving us to wait. Both Kim and I are in dress clothes, wet hair pulled back into ponytails. I try to keep the mood light as we wait.
“You played great today.”
“Merci beaucoup,” she says with a timid smile. I can see she’s nervous. She wants to play tomorrow’s final as much as I do. I’m sure she feels she deserves it. I sat at home in December and watched Kim in an interview after the shootout win when she indicated she wanted the number-one goalie job. I wouldn’t have ever said that on national TV, but I do think it.
Karen re-emerges into the hallway, “Okay, both of you come in.”
Both of us? Maybe our head coach, Melody Davidson, is not going to tell us about the starter for tomorrow’s final. Maybe Mel hasn’t made her mind up. She wouldn’t have us both in the room together?
The dressing room is stark white with a solitary grey plastic table in the middle. Hooks line the walls, but nothing hangs from them. Covering the table are papers, coaching notes, what may be scouting reports or lineups.
Mel sits facing the doorway as orange classroom-style chairs face her. Without looking up she motions. “Sit down.”
She has a clipboard in her hand and frowns. This isn’t unusual — she rarely looks happy. Only away from the rink will she let her guard down and smile. Around the rink, we all walk on eggshells. She never seems satisfied and I always feel I’m about to get into trouble or I’ve made her angry.
Kim and I sit down. My heart is racing. Mel’s awkward silence intimidates me. Karen grabs a chair and sits off in a corner, joined by our other assistant, Wally Kozak.
This tournament has been an amazing experience thus far. The team has become close very quickly and playing the world championship in Canada, unlike last year’s in Finland, has meant that my friends and family can be here. My parents flew in from Winnipeg even though they were just here in January for the all-star game. They met at U of T, so it’s a bit of a homecoming. My Thunder teammates are all here too, cheering for both their American teammates and us …
Mel is emotionless. She begins with “This choice hasn’t been easy.” My palms are sweaty, and I can feel my face getting red.
Kim stares straight ahead, hopeful. Mel continues. “Kim, you’ve had a great year with your McGill team, really proved yourself,” she says, gesturing with her hands in Kim’s direction with a slight hint of a smile. My heart sinks a little.
Mel turns to me. “And Sami, well, we expected more.”
I’m shocked. What more could I have done? I played well in every Team Canada game, and even if I wasn’t always my best with the Brampton Thunder, I played excellent when it mattered. It’s a hard league, with good teams and great players. Kim’s university league is second-rate compared to the National Women’s Hockey League. She plays with younger players. The Canadian Interuniversity Athletic Union league is no NWHL. I play amongst the best in the world. It’s not a fair comparison. What more did she want? Now I’m angry.
“But Sami, my gut tells me I should go with you for the final.”
What? Wait. Am I playing? Did she just say I’m playing the finals? Relief sweeps over my body. My face turns back to its normal colour. I don’t want to look at Kim. I don’t want to see her disappointment. How could Mel tell us together? This is cruel.
Mel extends her hand to Kim and then to me. I don’t want to look too excited — I know Kim must be devastated. I shake hands with Mel, turn, and follow Kim out the door. We walk in silence side by side, towards the bus that awaits us.
Just before we climb the stairs of the bus, I turn to Kim and whisper, “I’m sorry.”