The Badgers’ hockey season came to an end with a disappointing first round exit after a loss to the Guelph Gryphons, but for the Badgers’ top scorer, Annie Berg, the hockey season was far from over.
The Winter Universiade is a multi-sport, international competition, organized by FISU for University students all over the world. It is the largest multi-sport competition after the Olympics. This year, it took place in Krasnayorsk, Russia and saw over 3,000 athletes participate for their national teams.
It was January when Annie Berg received the email saying that she was on the long list of athletes being considered for Team Canada, but with the Badgers getting ready to make a final push for the playoffs, there was a lot on her mind.
“At this point, we still had quite a few games left to play in our season which was challenging. When you get the news that you are being considered to play in a competition on the world stage, you want to elevate your game and be the best you can be because it would be brutal to come that close and not make it,” she said.
Luckily for her, Canada wanted her to play for them almost as badly as she did.
“About two weeks later I got an email saying that I had been selected for the team and that was one of the most exciting days I’ve had all year.”
Team Canada was made up of 19 players from 13 different universities. It’s not as if they had never met one another, however, some girls played for the same university, many more played in the same league and even more than that were in the same circles within hockey.
“I think in this situation it was easy. We had an amazing group of girls and the team instantly clicked,” Berg said, “In hockey, it is also really easy to get to know people, because it’s a small world. Everyone has a couple players they’ve played with at different times, or have a mutual dislike for someone else in the league. You find little similarities like that and everyone is just laughing at all the stories.”
Berg was familiar with at least a handful of the players from the OUA regular season, but she made it clear that there was no bad blood between them based on what happened in the season.
“We all understand as players, that when we play against each other we’re not friends, but as soon as that games over it’s all forgotten. Coming into this tournament, we all had the same goal so it didn’t matter what happened before that we were all doing whatever it took.”
In tournament play, Canada leapt to a dominant start with a 10-0 win over China. They drove them up and down the ice with a staggering 91 shots compared to China’s three. They would go on to win their next three games in round robin play; they had a 4-0 victory over Japan and a tense nailbiter of a game against Team USA where the Canadians came away with the lone goal in a 1-0 game. They played the Swiss team in their fourth game and came away with an 8-2 win.
They were undefeated going into their first meeting with host team, Russia. Though, it was the home team that prevailed in a 4-2 Russia victory. As fate would have it, Canada beat Japan in their semi-final game to move on to the gold medal game where they would be playing none other than the Russians.
The team was led behind the bench by Laurentian’s head coach, Stacey Lee Colarossi. She and the rest of the coaching staff encouraged them to take the tournament one game at a time. Russia’s home ice advantage was in the back of the teams mind even as they took the ice in both games.
“I think a lot of us knew that Russia was going to be in the final as they had eleven girls that went to the last Olympics,” said Berg. “Once they beat us that first time the focus shifted to getting to that final to seek revenge.”
As it turns out, the Canadians wouldn’t even have the chance to score on the Russians. The team took home a silver medal after Russia shut down their offence to win 2-0.
The Universiade is a remarkable opportunity for all involved. The nearly three week tournament is an opportunity to play for enormous crowds and receive international attention. Berg plans to wrap up her hockey career after she finishes her undergraduate program and head to medical school.
“It really makes me appreciate all these opportunities and no matter what point you are at in your career it is always a huge honour to wear that Maple Leaf on the front.”
Ultimately, she doesn’t want the loss to be what she remembers about the tournament, “In the moment, losing that final game hurt a lot especially when we played such a great team game. But when I look back, I can’t let that one bad memory ruin all the amazing ones I made over that three weeks.”