Vanessa Stratton dropping the puck for Team Canada

Photo courtesy Vanessa Stratton

Behind the scenes on the international stage

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By Daniel Rocchi

Alana Goulden and Vanessa Stratton are among the early risers in Kamloops, B.C. on the morning of Saturday, Nov. 8. Team Canada and the United States don’t play for the gold medal until 7 p.m. that night, but there is much to do before then.

It’s the fifth and final day of the Four Nations Cup, an annual tournament pitting the top squads from Canada, Sweden, Finland and the U.S. against each other in a short, intense clash for women’s hockey supremacy.

For Goulden and Stratton, it’s another opportunity to join the highest level of the beloved game in which they’ve built their respective careers.

“I feel so lucky to be able to do this job and be involved in hockey, especially at that level.”

“It’s huge,” says Goulden, who took a brief hiatus from her duties as Ryerson’s equipment manager to fill the same role with Team Canada during the tournament. “I feel so lucky to be able to do this job and be involved in hockey, especially at that level.”

“It’s the dream job.”

Goulden wakes shortly after 7:30 a.m., grabbing a shower and a bite from the hotel buffet before heading to the rink at the Interior Savings Centre. Tonight, more than 5,400 fans will pack the arena to watch the Canadians defend their gold medal title. But for now, only Goulden and the other members of Team Canada’s support staff wander the facility, preparing for the team’s morning skate.

While Goulden hangs practice jerseys and sharpens skates, Stratton wakes and joins the other members of her four-referee crew working the Canada – U.S game for a 10 a.m. film session. They discuss time-outs and other logistical factors to consider during the game.

Stratton is Ryerson’s skate training coordinator, working with its hockey teams on and off the ice. In the Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS), the Provincial Women’s Hockey League (PWHL) and the Canadian Women’s Hockey League (CWHL), she’s a seasoned referee and linesman and she’s serving as one of two linesman in the gold medal game.

Neither Goulden nor Stratton are new to international hockey. Goulden has worked with Canada’s national women’s teams since 2009 and Stratton officiated her first international competition at the 2010 Four Nations Cup. But the thrill never wears off, especially when you find yourself lucky enough to be assigned the gold medal game between the sport’s top two countries, as Stratton did barely 24 hours before puck-drop.

“When I turned that paper over and looked at, it was a little bit of a relief and also [a feeling] of, “YAAAA!” laughs Stratton, recalling the sheet that listed each game and its crew.

After the film meeting, the officials watch part of the bronze medal game before heading back to the hotel for dinner and a pre-game nap. Goulden will do the same once she and her fellow equipment manager have finished making repairs, airing out gear and doing the laundry.

Game jerseys, practice jerseys, hockey socks and underclothes.

“Laundry takes up a lot of our time,” says Goulden with a smile.

G oulden and Stratton both return to the arena a few hours before the game; Goulden prepares Team Canada’s uniforms and dressing room for their arrival while Stratton meets with her team to establish a game plan.

When the game begins, play moves at breakneck speed. Canada takes a 1-0 edge in the first period before the Americans respond with a pair in the second. But the Canadians battled back minutes later to force a 2-2 tie in a game that needed a shootout to crown a winner.

“You can feel the game is rising, and you know something is going to happen,” Stratton says. “Anything can make those games turn, especially those championship games.”

What happened was a 3-2 gold medal triumph in the shootout for Team Canada.

It was a glorious moment for the home team, but one that Goulden took in only briefly before returning to business.

“It was enjoy the moment for a second and then think about what we need to do next.”

“Right after the final save I grabbed the sticks and went back to the room because we had to be packed up and out of there right after the game,” Goulden says. “It was enjoy the moment for a second and then think about what we need to do next.”

Eventually, she made time for festivities.

“We were a part of the team picture with the banner and got to see the players and the crowd celebrating so that was pretty cool,” she beams.

At Ryerson, Goulden and Stratton are co-workers and friends. Though both had full schedules at the tournament, they reunited over a crucial equipment tune-up.

“She’s one of the only ones I’ll let touch my skates,” Stratton says.


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