CALGARY – One of the most recognizable faces on the Canadian women’s hockey team will not play in the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.
Defenceman Tessa Bonhomme was among three players released from the team Tuesday along with defenceman Brigette Lacquette of Waterhen, Man., and Winnipeg forward Jenelle Kohanchuk.
Bonhomme was a veteran of the women’s team that won Olympic gold in 2010 in Vancouver.
“I don’t think it matters who you are, you’re always surprised when a cut is made,” Bonhomme said. “I’ve never counted my chickens before they were hatched and I always knew I would have to earn my spot no matter what.
“At the beginning of the year, I felt great, like I was playing the way I should and then I kind of ran into a little bit of health issues and didn’t really bounce back the way I wanted to.”
Head coach Dan Church reduced his roster to 24 players as Canada prepares for the chance to defend gold in February.
One more defencemen and two more forwards will be released before the 21-player Olympic roster is announced in late December.
Bonhomme raised her profile and that of women’s hockey with appearances on “Wipeout Canada” and CBC’s “Battle of the Blades” post-2010. Bonhomme has also done television work for Leafs TV in Toronto.
The 28-year-old from Sudbury, Ont., represented Canada in four world championships in addition to the Olympics. She won three gold and two silver in those tournaments.
“I tried this afternoon to try to sit down and realize what I’d worked so hard for the past three years isn’t going to happen,” Bonhomme said. “I’m OK with that. I’m an adult and this is what I signed up for, an opportunity to try out.
“I’m thankful Dan and Hockey Canada gave me the opportunity to come out here and try and prove what I got. Unfortunately it wasn’t enough.”
Bonhomme, Lacquette and Kohanchuk had just played in the Four Nations Cup in Lake Placid, N.Y., where Canada beat Finland 6-3 in Saturday’s final. Kohanchuk scored twice in the championship game.
“We didn’t foresee they were going to be able to move themselves up enough to overtake who was ahead of them on the depth chart at this point,” Church said.
“It didn’t matter how many weeks were still (to go), we didn’t see that happening based on the body of work to date.”
Lacquette, 21, and Kohanchuk, 23, were rookies on the national team. Between them, they’ve played 15 international games since the 27 players arrived in Calgary in August.
Bonhomme appeared in her 100th international game during the Four Nations. Offensively skilled and quick on her skates, Bonhomme has 10 goals and 41 assists for Canada, but didn’t have any points in Lake Placid.
She sat out some games this fall because of a crushed nerve she suffered in an Oct. 1 game, as well as a bout of shingles.
“Those are by no means excuses,” Bonhomme said. “I would never rely on one of those for the reason I was playing bad. Maybe I just didn’t perform up to the standard or up to par that they wanted and they decided to release me at the first chance they got.
“I’ve trusted the coaching staff from the get-go and I trust that they made the right decision. I have no doubt in my mind this team will be successful.”
Bonhomme was one of 13 veterans from 2010 invited to try out for the Olympic team again, but she was beaten out of her job by younger defenders. Lauriane Rougeau, Laura Fortino, Courtney Birchard and Tara Watchorn are newcomers to Canada’s blue-line since 2010.
Jocelyne Larocque, who was released from the 2010 team, and 2010 vets Catherine Ward and Meaghan Mikkelson are the experienced defencemen remaining.
“In looking at the number of defencemen we have, it comes down to a numbers game and who is ahead of whom at this point in the season,” Church said. “We have a lot of talented young players playing really well right now.
“At this point, we have seven defencemen here who have been a little bit more consistent in their level of competition and that’s why they’re still here.”
The Canadian women often say the Olympic Games is their Stanley Cup. That makes it difficult to tell them they won’t be going, said Church.
“While it’s a real tough day for coaches, it’s the toughest day for players,” Church said. “They were all emotional in their own way, but they all handled it very dignified. It was a tough day all around.
“Tessa was a true professional. She just thanked us and that was pretty much it.”
Bonhomme intends to return to Toronto, re-join the Toronto Furies of the Canadian Women’s Hockey League and pursue a masters degree in speech pathology.
She was the first female hockey player on “Battle of the Blades” which pairs hockey players with figure skaters. Bonhomme and David Pelletier were crowned the winners.
“Maybe I’ll go online and check out some new reality TV shows,” Bonhomme said. “There’s got to be a few shows I can apply for and hopefully get on.”
Meghan Agosta-Marciano, Rebecca Johnston, Jennifer Wakefield, Gillian Apps, Caroline Ouellette, Melanie Daoust, Jayna Hefford, Bailey Bram, Brianne Jenner, Haley Irwin, Hayley Wickenheiser, Natalie Spooner, Vicki Bendus and Marie-Philip Poulin are the remaining forwards after the release of Kohanchuk.
“Jenelle had played very well from the start of the season until now. We just didn’t see that she was going to be able to move up enough to make our final roster,” Church said. “She’s a hard-working player and a real good person, so it was hard to let her go, just as it was the other two players.
“Brigette is a talented defender and I think there’s potential for her down the road if she matures and becomes a more well-rounded athlete.”
Shannon Szabados, Charline Labonte and Genevieve Lacasse will be Canada’s goaltenders in Sochi.
Church informed Bonhomme, Kohanchuk and Lacquette of his decision prior to the team’s departure for Grande Prairie, Alta., on Tuesday. The Canadian women resume their schedule of games against Alberta Midget Hockey League teams there Wednesday.
Canada has played 27 games against men’s teams in the AMHL and international women’s teams since the players centralized in Calgary in August.
Canada and the U.S. women will meet again Dec. 12 in Calgary, followed by their exhibition games in Grand Forks, N.D., on Dec. 20, St. Paul, Minn., on Dec. 28 and Toronto on Dec. 30.