Hockey Canada on Tuesday announced its 23-player women's roster for next month's Beijing Olympics, with forwards Victoria Bach and Kristin O'Neill among the final cuts, along with veteran defender Meaghan Mikkelson.
Led by captain Marie-Philip Poulin and fellow forward Rebecca Johnston — each of whom will represent their country at a fourth Winter Games — Canada is looking to recapture gold in Beijing after dropping a 3-2 shootout decision to the United States in the 2018 Olympic final in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
But the Canadian women did rebound by capturing their first world championship in almost a decade last August with Poulin, a two-time Olympic champion, scoring the overtime winner in a 3-2 victory over the U.S.
Canada, which is comprised of three goalies, seven defenders and 13 forwards, opens the preliminary round of the Olympic tourney against Switzerland on Feb. 3, the day before the opening ceremony. The gold-medal game is Feb. 16.
'We have faced a number of challenges'
"It is always extremely difficult paring down the roster to the final group of players selected to wear the Maple Leaf at the Olympic Winter Games," Canada head coach Troy Ryan said in a news release. "We started with 29 athletes, which shows the depth of the talent pool that has been a part of our entire journey, and we are excited for the 23 players chosen to represent Canada.
"We have faced a number of challenges during this four-year Olympic cycle, and our staff and leadership group have done an incredible job preparing our athletes for Beijing. I am extremely proud of the team we have assembled and look forward to the opportunity to compete for a gold medal."
WATCH | Breaking down Canadian women's hockey's Olympic team:
Canada's women have played 27 games since July in the world championship, and against the American and Finland women, male Junior A and under-17 teams and the Professional Women's Hockey Players' Association.
A nine-game Rivalry Series against the U.S. was curtailed to six games, however, due to COVID-19 cases on the Canadian team, which also delayed the Dec. 22 announcement of the Olympic roster.
No gold since 2014
In Beijing, the women's tournament will run Feb. 2-16 at the National Indoor Stadium and Wukesong Sports Centre. Canada will aim for its fifth gold medal overall and first since 2014 in Sochi, Russia.
"It is a tremendous honour and accomplishment to be chosen to represent your country at the Olympics," said Hockey Canada CEO Tom Renney. "We extend our congratulations to all 23 players on their nomination to the Canadian Olympic team and we will join with hockey fans from coast-to-coast-to-coast in our excitement and pride as we watch Canada compete in Beijing."
The 25-year-old Bach, a fast, and skilled player from Milton, Ont., spent time on Canada's top line with Brianne Jenner and Poulin in her debut world championship last year.
WATCH | 23-player women's team unveiled for Beijing 2022:
At 23, O'Neill, who hails from Mississauga, Ont., was among the least experienced of the 29 players that arrived in Calgary in July to begin Olympic centralization.
Mikkelson is a three-time Olympian from Regina — she has appeared in 105 games for the national team — and was the oldest player on the centralized roster at 37. She had reconstructive knee surgery last June and didn't appear in a game until mid-December.
Canada won't play any more games before the Olympics in order to reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission and ensure players can board a plane to Beijing in less than a month.
The women have yet to reunite as a full team since COVID-19 infiltrated their ranks in December.
"I've got about half of our group back with us and the other half joining us here shortly," Hockey Canada director of hockey operations Gina Kingsbury told The Canadian Press.
"Everyone is doing very well," Kingsbury said. "We're all double-vaccinated."
Canada's Olympic roster
Kristen Campbell, Brandon, Man.
Ann-Renée Desbiens, La Malbaie, Que.
Emerance Maschmeyer, Bruderheim, Alta.
Erin Ambrose, Keswick, Ont.
Ashton Bell, Deloraine, Man.
Renata Fast, Burlington, Ont.
Jocelyne Larocque, Ste. Anne, Man.
Ella Shelton, Ingersoll, Ont.
Claire Thompson, Toronto
Micah Zandee-Hart, Saanichton, B.C.
Emily Clark, Saskatoon
Mélodie Daoust, Valleyfield, Que.
Sarah Fillier, Georgetown, Ont.
Brianne Jenner, Oakville, Ont.
Rebecca Johnston, Sudbury, Ont.
Emma Maltais, Burlington, Ont.
Sarah Nurse, Hamilton
Marie-Philip Poulin, Beauceville, Que. (team captain)
Jamie Lee Rattray, Kanata, Ont.
Jillian Saulnier, Halifax
Natalie Spooner, Scarborough, Ont.
Laura Stacey, Kleinburg, Ont.
Blayre Turnbull, Stellarton, N.S.