Campbell joins elite company

"We've come a long way faster than the men's game did."

Torino  Italy

Cassie Campbell celebrates her second Olympic gold medal in Torino. Photo: HHoF/IIHF Images

VANCOUVER – Not Wayne Gretzky. Not Steve Yzerman. Only one Canadian hockey player has ever captained the national team to back-to-back Olympic gold medals.
Her name is Cassie Campbell, and the veteran of 157 international games proudly represented the 2002 Canadian Olympic women's team at the Canadian Olympic Hall of Fame inductions in Vancouver on March 26. Also on hand from that team was 2002 coach Daniele Sauvageau.
The 2002 men's team, which earned Canada's first hockey gold in 50 years with a 5-2 win over the United States in Salt Lake City, was inducted as well, represented by coach Pat Quinn and Hockey Canada president Bob Nicholson. Dr. Robert Hindmarch, who managed and served as an assistant coach for Canada's 1964 Olympic hockey team, gained entry as a builder.
The induction was truly a special moment for Campbell and her teammates, since previously only three hockey teams had been inducted into the Canadian Olympic Hall of Fame: the 1920 Winnipeg Falcons, 1948 RCAF Flyers, and 1952 Edmonton Waterloo Mercurys. All were Olympic champions.
Ceremonies were held at the Westin Bayshore Hotel, the venue for the 2007 IIHF Semi-Annual Congress and the designated host hotel for IOC dignitaries during the 2010 Winter Olympics.
At a press conference earlier that day, Campbell reminisced with reporters about how fellow inductees Jamie Sale and David Pelletier, who won figure skating gold for Canada in 2002, fired up the women's team by delivering a pep talk at 8 a.m. on the day of the final against the Americans.
Afterwards, caught up with Campbell, who currently works as a CBC and TSN hockey commentator, to reminisce about the Salt Lake City Olympics and discuss the state of the women's game with the 2009 IIHF World Women's Championship in Finland (April 4-12) fast approaching.
Congratulations on your induction. Looking back, what was it like dealing with the pressure heading into the 2002 Olympics after the disappointment of settling for silver in Nagano in 1998?

I think it was a really tough season. We were playing against the American Dream Team. They were preparing for that Olympics and centralized for three years. We had a lot of tough times throughout the season, a lot of things that could have torn our team apart. Obviously, the main thing was not winning throughout the season against the US. After the gold medal game in 2002, I think our record was one win and eight losses, when all was said and done. It was amazing how our team stuck together, believed in the process, and came together. At the Olympics, we sort of had this euphoric feeling that nothing was going to stop us. We wanted to win that gold medal. Especially for the 11 or 12 of us who were returning from 1998, we had great motivation.
You didn't have much adversity in the Preliminary Round in Salt Lake City, but then things changed drastically against the Finns in the semi-final when you trailed 3-2 heading into the third.

That was the first time that had ever happened for Canada in the semi-finals in women's hockey. I remember people speaking in the room, and some great words were said. We ended up winning that game 7-3. It was just another challenge that we had to face. For whatever reason that year, our team continued to meet and overcome the challenges.

What are some moments that stand out for you from the 3-2 gold medal victory over the US. There was Jayna Hefford's winning goal, the post-game celebrations, and, of course, killing a whole lot of penalties.

One big thing for me is, I was a penalty-killer. I remember seeing five top power play people, key offensive players like Danielle Goyette, Caroline Ouellette, Dana Antal, Tammy Lee Shewchuk, and Jennifer Botterill, not getting a lot of ice time. As a penalty killer in that game, they would just shuffle down the bench and encourage us: “Come on, girls!” They were so positive. I know it was a tough situation for them. I also remember the celebration, because as it worked out, I was the first one to get my medal and then I got to watch all the other girls get them and see their reactions. It was an amazing feeling.

How do you feel when you see the Canadian roster for the 2009 IIHF World Women's Championship and it only has four players -- Botterill, Hefford, Hayley Wickenheiser, and Becky Kellar -- remaining from that original 1998 Olympic roster?

It's an amazing time. It shows how far our program has come. I know the girls are working so hard, and I keep in contact with most of them on a regular basis. I meet with them for coffee when they need someone to talk to. I'm going to be a huge fan cheering them on. They're in Finland right now getting ready. It'll be a lot of pressure and expectations, but no more than they put on themselves. And come 2010, I hope they just enjoy the experience of playing an Olympics in Canada and competing for their country.

How has your relationship with the American players changed since you retired? A little less animosity?

[laughs] Cammi Granato and I have actually become really good friends. We both got injured two years before we retired, and we also played against each other in the Western Women's Hockey League (WWHL). A lot of the American girls play in Canadian leagues, so we've gotten to know them. Also working on the media side, I've gotten to interview some of them one-on-one, and I've also been doing some writing, promoting women's hockey. So, we don't like one another on the ice, but a lot of us have developed friendships away from the rink. There's a great mutual respect. We all realize what we've been doing for the game of women's hockey.

The Clarkson Cup, the symbol of North American women's league hockey supremacy, was awarded to the Montreal Stars of the National Women's Hockey League (NWHL) after their 3-1 win over the WWHL's Minnesota Whitecaps on March 21. What was your reaction?

That was a big moment, and I hope it's a symbol of how we need to continue to move forward in women's hockey with one identity. Whether it's East or West, it's about Canada, it's about North America, and it's about the world. Hopefully we can provide a league here down the road where international players want to come over and play. I think you'll see that happen.

There is a ton of great young talent coming up for Canada right now. Marie-Philip Poulin was named to the Worlds roster as an 17-year-old, making her the youngest player on the team. What are your impressions of her?

As a veteran who's retired, you're always sort of worried about the program and who's going to continue the traditions. Well, I met Marie-Philip, and she's a remarkable young kid. Considering how talented she is, there's no ego involved, which is exciting for me to see. I think she's going to be a great leader and potential captain down the road. I think you're going to really notice her, more than any other player, at the 2010 Olympics. That's how good I think she is. She's just a fabulous individual with a great work ethic. You can't teach that, but she has it. I'm looking forward to watching her and supporting her throughout her journey, because she's going to have a great career.

When you look at international women's hockey overall, are we getting more parity in the sport? Last year, the US knocked off Canada for the gold medal, and the Swiss made it to the bronze medal game before losing to Finland.

Last year was a big year for women's hockey. The Swiss upset Sweden, Finland upset the US, and the US upset Canada twice and managed to win it all. The Americans won two out of the last three World Championships. I think you're going to see big things coming up from Switzerland. Sweden upset Canada at the Four Nations this year. To put it in perspective, we're only 19 years old as a sport if you look back to the first official IIHF World Women's Championship in Ottawa in 1990. If you think about it, in some ways we've come a long way faster than the men's game did. I know, watching the games now compared to watching the games from 1998, the competitiveness level is like night and day.

What do you think the 2010 Games are going to do as far as growing the game and getting even more young girls playing hockey?

I think it'll be great in North America, and obviously, for any of those other countries coming into a hockey hotbed like Canada, it'll do wonders for their programs too to see how passionate we are about it. Regardless of who wins, with having the tournament in North America, it will bring a lot of attention to women's hockey. Hopefully we can capitalize on that.





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