CALGARY – Specializing in defence wasn’t enough to get veteran Gillian Ferrari back on the Canadian Olympic women’s hockey team.
The 29-year-old from Thornhill, Ont., who has played in four world championship and won an Olympic gold medal in 2006 for Canada, was among the final two players released from Canada’s roster that was announced Monday.
Forward Jennifer Wakefield, 20, was the other player cut. Wakefield, from Pickering, Ont., suffered a broken wrist three weeks ago and hasn’t been able to play since then.
Ferrari was elbowed out by defencemen with more offensive skill than her.
Meaghan Mikkelson of St. Albert, Alta., Montreal’s Catherine Ward and Tessa Bonhomme of Sudbury, Alta., are among seven newcomers making their Olympic debut Feb. 13 when Canada opens defence of its title against Slovakia.
The five-foot-eight, 154-pound Ferrari hasn’t scored a goal in an international game since her first game with the national team back in 2001, but she’s been an effective protector of the defensive zone.
“The defence now are a lot more dynamic,” Ferrari said Monday. “It’s not enough just to bring a solid defence. The younger defenceman we have . . . they all bring a lot of offence as well as solid defence.
“Looking at the younger players, I’m just flabbergasted at how much better women’s hockey is getting. I guess that kind of made a difference.”
Canadian head coach Melody Davidson, who chose Ferrari for her 2006 squad, has been cultivating defenders who can score and set up goals as well as repel the opposition in Canada’s end.
“Over the last four years we’ve been building the depth at defence,” Davidson explained. “Gillian is a casualty of that depth unfortunately.
“We wanted the six best defencemen we could get and Gilly fell in that No. 7 hole.”
Twenty-six players congregated in Calgary on Aug. 2 to try out for Canada’s Olympic team. When polled about which player was the team’s comedienne, they were nearly unanimous in choosing Ferrari.
She was a favourite in the dressing room because she could always be counted on to lighten the mood.
“It’s probably the toughest cut I’ve seen in all my years because it was so close,” captain Hayley Wickenheiser said.
The Canadian team will need moments of comic relief as the Olympics draw near because expectations of the team are so high. Anything less than gold they will consider a disappointment.
After playing games and training together for months, the players grow close.
The Canadian team was unveiled Monday at a downtown Calgary hotel. Many of those who have played with Ferrari in previous world championships and the Olympics had mixed feelings.
“She’s the definition of fun,” forward Caroline Ouellette said. “I miss her already. I can feel that she’s not here.
“I’m not going to lie. A lot of us were crying and thinking about her today.”
Ferrari was devastated when Davidson told her Sunday night she was not part of the Olympic team. She says she can’t see herself retiring from the national team right now.
“Personally I’m very upset,” Ferrari said. “I love the girls and I’m really sad I’m not going to continue with them. At the same time, I’m very grateful for the time I’ve been able to spend with everyone.
“I know they’re going to do great things. I’m going to be nervous and obviously really excited for the result. I can’t wait to see the gold medals around the girls’ necks.”