Les Canadiennes Embark on Once in a Lifetime Hockey Adventure to China

Montreal’s CWHL Team Prepare for Nine-Day Trip

  • Les Canadiennes will embark on their first ever nine-day road trip to China. File Photo Daren Zomerman

Canadiennes interim captain Ann-Sophie Bettez has been to far-flung locales over the years to play hockey.

She remembers participating in the 2011 Universiade Winter Games in Erzurum, Turkey, representing Team Canada. She has also travelled to Germany and Finland in the past to play in international competitions.

The team will be leaving from Montreal Friday morning. File Photo Daren Zomerman

In a few days time, Bettez will be able to add Shenzhen, China to the list of places where she’s played hockey.

“It’s going to be a pretty exciting moment, a historic moment as well for us to play in China,” said Bettez on Tuesday night ahead of the team’s final practice at Arena Michel-Normandin before travelling to China. “Never would I have imagined ever going there, let alone being able to play hockey there. It’s going to be a really fun time.”

The team will depart Montreal on Friday morning, bound for Shenzhen. They’re set to arrive Saturday night, where they will be based for nine days. Players are excited to bask in the warm weather and to discover a part of the world previously unfamiliar to them.

“I’m really excited to see the culture,” said defender Erin Ambrose. “It’s going to be a quick turnaround since it’s such a short trip, but it will be so cool to see everything that they do and how their lives work over there.”

“I’ve never played somewhere where I can be in flip-flops outside and then go in and play,” said Canadiennes forward Katia-Clement Heydra. “It’s kind of like a mini-vacation when you think of it. Nine days off from work, playing hockey on the other side of the Earth is pretty cool.”

“I’ve never played somewhere where I can be in flip-flops outside and then go in and play. It’s kind of like a mini-vacation when you think of it. Nine days off from work, playing hockey on the other side of the Earth is pretty cool.“— Canadiennes forward Katia-Clement Heydra.

Les Canadiennes are the last of the five North American-based Canadian Women’s Hockey League teams to make the long journey to southeastern China. As a result, they have received a fair share of travel advice and tourist spot recommendations from players around the league.

“They told us that there is a lot of nice stuff to see during the days off,” said Bettez. “There’s the zoo and the Shenzhen black market. I’m pretty excited to be able to live that experience with the team.”

In addition, the team has received advice from players on how to combat the various challenges that playing in China engenders, including tips on how to battle the jet lag bound to arise following a 20-plus hour flight. The team will have to deal with the 13-hour time difference between Montreal and Shenzhen.

Les Canadiennes have also learned from the previous failures of other teams when it comes to logistics. The organization has hired a translator for the duration of the trip, to help with the language barrier they’re bound to encounter during their stay.

Players have also been briefed on what to expect when it comes to food.

“[Other players around the league] told us to bring a lot of snacks, since the food over there might not always sit well with our stomachs,” said Clement-Heydra.

“[The players] also talked about the McDonald’s close to the arena,” she said. “At least we’ll know about one thing that we’re eating. We’ll try not to go too often.”

Les Canadiennes will face off twice against both the Vanke Rays, on Feb. 25 and 26, and the Kunlun Red Star, on Feb. 28 and Mar. 2. These games have particular incidence on the standings, especially those with Kunlun.

The Red Star sit just three points behind Montreal for the top spot in the league standings, however, Les Canadiennes have a game in hand over their Chinese rivals. While the team is excited about visiting China, they are well aware of the overarching purpose of their voyage.

“We see it as a way of basically winning first place,” said Clement-Heydra. “If we can win those games, we set ourselves up for success. We’re going to have to battle hard, battle the distractions and the fatigue. We’re ready for it, I hope.”

Apart from the Calgary Inferno who recently went 3-0-1 on their trip to China, the other three teams have struggled mightily during their respective road trips. The Markham Thunder, Toronto Furies, and Boston Blades went a combined 0-11-1 during their trips to China.

While jetlag and the time difference are often cited as underlying factors behind team’s struggles, Les Canadiennes say this is not an excuse and are confident they can handle these added challenges.

“It’s not a long enough trip that we will be able to fully adjust to the time change, but not short enough that you can just grind through it,” said Ambrose. “We have prepared as much as we can going into it. At the end of the day, we’re going to have to step on the ice and put our best foot forward.”

The team will be based in Shenzhen for the trip. File Photo Daren Zomerman

The nine-day trip to China is uncharted water for Les Canadiennes, a far cry from the typical two-day weekend getaways the group is generally accustomed to. Players will leave family and friends behind temporarily, in favor of added time amongst teammates. With the playoffs just around the corner, players and staff view this opportunity as a way to build camaraderie within the group.

“We want to take advantage of this situation to forge deeper connections between players and staff,” said Brunet. “I think it could be very positive for us going forward.”

“It can go both ways,” countered Clement-Heydra. “Either, we’re going to get closer or we’re going to catfight. You’re with 23 of your sisters so of course we’re going to get on each other’s nerves sometimes. I think it’s going to bring us closer in the end. Travelling to the other side of the Earth is going to be good for our team chemistry.”

Forward and four-time Olympian Caroline Ouellette will not make the trip to China, instead staying behind in Montreal to tend to newborn daughter Liv and to fulfill her assistant coaching duties with the Concordia Stingers women’s hockey team, as they begin their Réseau du sport étudiant du Québec playoff run this coming Thursday.

Defender Cassandra Poudrier is also not expected to join the team on the road, as she continues to feel the effects of an injury sustained in the team’s 7-3 home win over the Rays on Jan. 27.

Coach Brunet confirmed that all other players, however, are available, enthusiastic, and ready to make the trip with the team to China, a journey that is sure to be a memorable one for all.

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