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Hockey Canada's women's program is showing some worrying trends

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You can't argue with success until it starts catching up to you

Richard Wolowicz/Freestyle Photo/Getty Images

Les Canadiennes had the most goals of any team in the entire Canadian Women's Hockey League. They had the top four scorers - all forwards and all Canadians - in the entire league.

They only had one forward selected to Team Canada's World Championship roster announced on Monday.

On the other side, seven forwards were named from the Calgary Inferno, Montreal's opponent in the Clarkson Cup final.

Now this is a chicken and egg thing. Players in the National Team program go to Calgary to be closer to Hockey Canada headquarters. Players like Rebecca Johnston, and Brianne Jenner played for other CWHL teams before moving to Calgary.

I'm not saying that the players based in Calgary don't deserve a spot. A lot of them have been on the National team radar well before being based in Calgary.

But it was more what Hockey Canada said rather than what they did that makes you wonder.

"It doesn’t change anything to be honest with you," said General Manager Melody Davidson when asked if the emergence of the CWHL changes the evaluation process. "We have our selection camps and events and select our players to come there and we’re always out in the rinks watching our players regardless of where they play. So it maybe makes it a little easier to scout when we have a big chunk in the CWHL but we still watch the college hockey on both sides of the border."

Now perhaps she misunderstood my question, but it's a little weird that Hockey Canada doesn't pay much attention to what these players are doing against each other in competitive environments.

Two of the players omitted stood out in particular, Montreal's Ann-Sophie Bettez and Caroline Ouellette, who finished second and fourth in league scoring respectively. Both were not invited to the evaluation camp in January.

Bettez, despite finishing in the top five in CWHL scoring every year she's been in the league, has not been invited to a camp since 2011--a topic we've discussed in greater depth elsewhere. Ouellette, despite being the captain at the Sochi Olympics, was not named to the World Championship roster last year until being named as an injury replacement.

"Well in Caroline’s case, she decided to focus on some other areas I think that was announced at last year’s World Championships," said Davidson. "She’s still playing an exceptional level and loving it, but also expanding into other areas."

We could not confirm whether Ouellette has indeed retired from the National team.

"[Bettez has] been with us for a while and had a terrific year at the CWHL level, and we continue to watch, and if a player is deemed strong enough at a certain stage in their career, then we’d definitely consider them, but at this time Ann-Sophie didn’t make the team and wasn’t named to the roster," Davidson said.

Now, as we know with Canada, there are a lot of very good hockey players. You could make a case for a lot of players who didn't make it. Melodie Daoust, who was also on the Sochi roster has 51 points in 31 games at McGill University, 15 points ahead of second place and 33 points ahead of third. She wasn't on the roster for the World Championships.

Courtney Birchard, Genevieve Lacasse and Kelly Terry are others you can make a case for. You could make a case for any players that they would have replaced.

And this isn't solely a development team, either. Head coach Laura Schuler says she was given the task of picking a team to win this year, not plan for 2018. The roster also includes Hayley Wickenheiser, who made her Worlds debut in 1994.

The problem isn't the players, it's the process. We see this with the men's senior and junior teams. They try to build a hockey team for an 82 game season instead of a short tournament. They leave skill (read: risk) at home and go for safe options.

It's hard for teams to take risks. There are a lot of options left at home that could perform. Team Canada doesn't need to send the best 23 players, especially when they are essentially guaranteed a Silver Medal, and when the only thing that really matters is every four years.

But the risk argument, at least in the way we see it on the men's side, doesn't even fly in the face of Bettez or Ouellette. They are two of the top penalty killers on the league's best penalty kill. How good? Les Canadiennes killed 96 per cent of their penalties this season.

But you can't argue with success. They win. But the men did too, and still do, until they don't. Eventually the selection process will catch up with them. We aren't there yet, but there are some worrisome trends.