Written by: Matt Johnson for Sask Sport
Photo credit: MATTHEW MURNAGHAN / HOCKEY CANADA IMAGES
When the 2021 IIHF Women’s World Hockey Championship was cancelled just weeks away from the tournament beginning in April, there were a lot of questions raised. Would a reschedule be possible? Would the Olympics serve as the first stage of competition for the best women’s hockey players in the world in more than 850 days? Should there have been a better back-up plan for the event?
With the tournament cancelled in both 2020 and 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, women’s hockey was at a standstill. Voices around the game echoed how paramount the tournament is to provide a lift to a sport that has been so affected by the ramifications of the ongoing pandemic.
So when it was announced in June that Calgary would play host to the tournament, it’s safe to say there was a collective sigh of relief from everyone associated with the sport.
That includes from Team Canada forward and Saskatoon-born Emily Clark.
Clark, who made her first appearance at a world championship in 2015, will be suiting up in her fifth rendition of the tournament. The former Saskatoon Stars standout, NCAA national champion with the Wisconsin Badgers and KidSport Saskatchewan ambassador is more than thankful to be back on the ice considering the past 18 months.
“It’s been a tough year-and-a-half for everyone in all fields, but for us, we just want the chance to compete,” said Clark. “And to get close to getting that, then having that change on a dime was tough, but to be back with the group again and having it in Calgary and being here already, it makes it surreal.”.
The 2021 IIHF Women’s World Championship is set for Aug. 20-31 in Calgary.
If a world championship wasn’t enough to look forward to, waiting on deck is the 2022 Olympic Games in Beijing, where the Canadians will be looking to avenge their gold medal game shootout loss to the United States from 2018.
Emily Clark on wearing the maple leaf with Team Canada
It means everything every time you get the chance to do it. It’s definitely something that never gets old and you really never take for granted because there’s no guarantee how many more times you get to wear it. So you just take advantage every time you get the chance.
In a traditional calendar cycle, there is no world championship in an Olympic year. But now, there are two massive opportunities awaiting women’s hockey players within a six-month span.
“This year is always huge as a centralization year. So for us to be able to be together as a team for six, seven months before the Olympics and really work together to build that trust and that chemistry and prepare for the Olympics is huge,” said Clark.
For Clark, who is on track to appear in her second Olympic Games, the opportunity to dawn the red and white with the maple leaf on her chest is priceless.
“It means everything every time you get the chance to do it. It’s definitely something that never gets old and you really never take it for granted because there’s no guarantee how many more times you get to wear it. So you just take advantage every time you get the chance,” said Clark.
Not only does Clark get the chance to represent the nation, she also represents the province as the lone Saskatchewan-born player on the roster.
“I take a lot of pride in that and being that player for those girls,” said Clark.
While Clark may be the lone Saskatchewan-born player on this current roster now, fellow Saskatoon-born player and current Badger Sophie Shirley is turning heads with the national team. Shirley, who was a part of Hockey Canada’s original training camp for the tournament back in April, is set to enter her senior season at Wisconsin after winning her second national championship last season.
“I try to keep tabs on all those Saskatchewan girls coming down the line and I’m certainly super proud of the career she’s had,” said Clark of Shirley. “To be able to play a year with her as her teammate at the University of Wisconsin was really special because I’ve known her since she was probably six or seven. I played with her older brothers, Keenan, and Colin growing up, so to really know her and Grace [Sophie’s younger sister] from a young age and see all the amazing things she’s been able to accomplish. I have no doubt she’ll make her dreams a reality one day soon too.”
And when it comes to making dreams a reality – it’s hard for Clark not to look at the Canadian women’s national soccer team as a source of inspiration after they went on to win Olympic gold in Tokyo, dethroning the rival Americans 1-0 in the semifinal.
The Canadians are hoping to create a similar story in Calgary, as they step back onto the world stage looking to win their first world championship since 2012, with the United States winning the last five instalments of the tournament.
“It’s super inspiring and motivating. We’ve been glued to the television watching every event as a team and keeping tabs on all the Canadians competing over there. To see them beat the States, I think there’s a lot of similarities in our past couple of years,” said Clark.
“Our sights around gold for the 2021 world’s. That’s definitely our goal right now. And then once the world championships are over, we’ll definitely change our sights to gold in 2022,” said Clark.
“Our group is just really doing a good job of looking at the process and going to work every day and knowing that when the spotlight is on it’ll pay off and we’ll set ourselves in the best position possible in those gold medal games.”
Clark and Team Canada open the world championship tournament Friday at 4 p.m. (SK time) against Finland. The Canadians will also face the Russian Olympic Committee on August 22, Switzerland on August 25 and face the US in an anticipated matchup on August 26 to close out preliminary play.
Visit Hockey Canada for the complete schedule and viewing information.