Eyes on the Prize talked to Les Canadiennes forward (and sometimes defender) Karell Emard about the team’s recent trip to China. This isn’t a game by game recap but more about the experiences the team had on their first ever trip.
Emard joined the team in Shenzhen, China where the team stayed and the games were played. She was at the Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea prior to going to China where, among other things, she controlled the CWHL’s Instagram account for a period while in the arena for the women’s gold medal game.
My trip was a lot easier than the rest of the team. I only had a four hour flight from PyeongChang. The girls were supposed to get to Shenzhen around 6:00 [in the evening] so I got in at 2 and my roommate is [Emerance Maschmeyer] so I thought that she would wake me up when she got in and I passed out. I was out. I didn’t really sleep while I was at the Olympics. It was just so high on everything in life. Because it was an amazing experience. The Olympics are such a high and such a fun time.
So I was sleeping and I woke up and I was so lost. I was like ‘what time is it?’, and it was like 9. And then I was like ‘where is my roommate?’ They weren’t even here yet. They flew in and their trip was supposed to be a 14 hour trip and then a [two hour] bus ride to Shenzhen. It ended up being close to a 26 hour trip.
They experienced Hong Kong for the first time and going through the border was a little bit hectic and crazy. Because they drop you off, you’re taking all your bags in and you have to go through security like at the airport. People are just staring at you holding your hockey bag and you’re sweating because it’s super humid. You get through and their bags don’t fit and it took forever. They looked through every bag so it was really funny. The girls talking about it was hilarious and they were like ‘how was your trip? Was it crazy?’ and I was like ‘Meh, I flew into Shenzhen so I didn’t go through that mess’. That was fun.
The time difference also wasn’t as big as an effect on Emard. It was only one hour between PyeongChang and Shenzhen, whereas her teammates were coming from Montreal. Just hours after getting to China, they played the Vanke Rays. It was their first game in three weeks.
The next day we played right away and we felt it during the first. The legs weren’t really there. It took us a bit of time to adjust to the size of the rink. It was a bit bigger [the rink in Shenzhen is Olympic sized], we needed our legs and we didn’t have our legs but then we got it together. We were missing Erin [Ambrose], she got in that night so I was back on defence for the first game, and I did OK. It was a 2:30pm game which was apparently better for recovery. We thought it was crazy but they really believed in it.
We had a 2-1 lead. We started playing defensive. We’re letting them have the puck, we’re trying to contain and that’s when the bad stuff happens.
They would play the second of two games against the Vanke Rays the next night.
It wasn’t the result we wanted and then we got our [stuff] together. We had a little meeting. We prepared better. Everyone was on the same page. It was a crazy time. What are we doing? What’s going on? And you could tell the team played together. Our transition play was way better.
We won the second game, it was awesome. The reaction and how people reacted to the game before, we were united again and it was our time. We enjoyed a little bit of Shenzhen that night.
We went on a tour in Hong Kong the next day. We went to what they call the Black Market. It was awesome. Bought some t-shirts. It was fun. We split in two little groups so we were always with the same people. Maschmeyer, Ambrose, [Melanie] Desrochers and I are the “fun crew” so we just clicked and we were always together. We ended up on a rooftop. It was like we were living the dream.
Our days were filled but we enjoyed every minute. We went shopping. We went on a rooftop terrace. We met up with some of Mel’s friends who got us into a sweet restaurant. We drove back exhausted and the next day we had to get it together to get into practice mode.
We got lucky enough to meet some people from the Cirque de Soleil that were at our hotel. They said, ‘Thursday we’re going to invite you.’
After the day off on Tuesday, it was time to play the Kunlun Red Star, who Montreal was battling with for top spot in the CWHL.
We were ready for Kunlun but I think if we could have had one extra day just doing nothing, staying at the hotel that could have helped.
We came into the Kunlun series and it still a tight game. We missed some great opportunities. We lost in a shootout. There were penalties left and right. I personally took three. Kelli Stack was on fire [she took four penalties]. People didn’t care. And I don’t think we expected that, coming from Vanke to Kunlun. People were getting frustrated and it was the same referees for all four games so you don’t want to hate them.
We had another day off in between the two games, so we went to the other market quickly. We bought shoes, sunglasses and matching glasses. We’re idiots like that. It made it that much more fun.
On their day off on Thursday, they also went to the Cirque de Soleil performance where - if you look closely - you might be able to see some of the Fun Crew’s matching glasses...
The people there were super nice. We bought some ramen and we went to the grocery store and found the one woman who spoke English. And she ran to go get them.
Getting a taxi driver to get us somewhere we had to show a picture and go ‘Drive us’ and we’re just saying ‘xie xie’ [thank you in Mandarin] the whole time. The guy is talking his language and saying ‘No I’m not driving you. It’s too far’ and we’re just like ‘xie xie’.
You want to see everything but you know your legs need to be fine to perform the next day so that was a little bit of a challenge.
In the last game, there wasn’t much left in the tank. They got shut out 3-0 in the final game in China, ending their trip at 1-2-1.
Was the trip unfair? I don’t think so. It would have been nice to have an extra day at the beginning. I don’t know if we would rather play Kunlun first. We thought we would be better at the end, but our legs were not there.
The food may have been an adjustment for us but once you get used to it it’s OK.
We ate a lot of chicken. They always put something from there that we were scared of. Maybe we should have [tried it] but we’re playing. We want to be able to perform. If we were just travelling it would be different. Breakfast was great. They had an omelet bar.
McDonald’s wasn’t too far. We got good coffee there and actually two players had McDo for pregame meals a couple of times. And they played really well in those games. They just admitted it before the game [on Saturday against Calgary]. We were like... today? And they said ‘no, in China...’
It was a great trip. Their set up is genius. It’s perfect. If we could get that here, everywhere, it would be unbelievable.
Everyone enjoyed the trip as much as they could. The trip back was hectic too because a dog got loose under the plane. ‘Sorry ladies we can’t leave just yet. We need to find the dog’. I was on a different flight leaving an hour after them. I did Vancouver to [Montreal] and they did Toronto from Hong Kong. I even had time to nap and I woke up and the plane was still there and sure enough they were looking for a dog because a dog got loose right before they were supposed to leave.
Back at home
They eventually did get back to Montreal on Sunday morning. They had less than a week to prepare for the regular season finale that weekend.
We practiced on Tuesday… It was something else. You keep the paths short and you try to shoot on net and that’s pretty much what we did.
We had a group text going and it was funny. At 3 a.m... ‘Anyone awake? I’m wide awake’ and 20 people responding ‘yep, can’t sleep!’ ‘What are you doing, I’m watching this show’… ‘I’m doing this’… ‘I’m cooking’… ‘I’m eating’… It was silly.
I didn’t think the trip would take such a toll on our bodies. Even [Saturday in Montreal] the first two shifts were like… ‘I hope I get my legs back’. And sure enough your body kicks in… We’re just over tired. You think you’re sleeping well but you wake up at 3 a.m. and are wide awake, saying ‘OK what am I doing with my day?’ and then you crash. At 2 p.m. you’re just dying. You’re trying to go to work, you’re trying to stay awake, you’re trying to do things…
They had one last practice on Thursday, which is when Hilary Knight and Lauriane Rougeau returned to practice which gave the team a bit of a boost. Then, they had their two games last weekend to fight for first place in front of two sold-out crowds.
The fans... You don’t get it until you play here. And Maschmeyer said that too... It’s fun when they play against us, they feel it, but you don’t feel that energy, that support.
Our fans are the best and we need them and having the playoffs here is huge. We need the fans. We need everyone and we’re really excited about it.