Hawks don red and white

On the afternoon of Jan. 22, five hockey Hawks escaped the -20 degree Celsius weather and took to the skies to fly to Erzurum, Turkey to compete in the 2011 Winter Universiade, otherwise known as the XXV Winter World University Games — the equivalent of the Olympics for the best university athletes in the world.

Men’s hockey captain Jean-Michel Rizk, former women’s hockey captain Andrea Ironside, as well as current goaltender Liz Knox, forward Candice Styles and defenceman Alicia Martin will all represent Canada in the 57-nation games.

Included in the Universiade are sports that Canada hosted in Vancouver one short year ago in the Olympic games, like Nordic skiing, speed skating, curling, figure skating, ice hockey and snowboarding, among others.

Knox is no stranger to throwing on the maple leaf, as she suited up for the national women’s under-22 team in the 2008-09 season.

“It’s a really unique experience,” said the goaltender. “The under-22’s have a multi-nation tournament but this is the whole world, with an athlete’s village and an opening ceremonies and everything.”

Ironside is one of only six returning players on the women’s squad that won the gold medal in 2009 with a 3-1 victory over the host Chinese.

Any advice for the newcomers, Ironside?

“Just take it all in, one day at a time. Don’t take anything for granted,” said the former captain.

“It’s such a culturally great experience but in terms of hockey, it’s phenomenal to play with the best girls that there are at this level.”

“Never been to Turkey, it really wasn’t on my ‘to do’ list,” smiled Styles. “But I’m really hoping to get to know the culture.”

The coaching staff wants the players to get to know each other quickly in the two-week sporting frenzy, says Martin.

“I think we’re going to be rooming with one person we’ve never met before,” said the defenceman.

But the fact that the players, relative unknowns to each other before the games start, don’t know each other too well on the ice, is a good challenge, said Martin.

“I think everyone’s a good enough player… It’s going to be fun to meet a whole bunch of new hockey players and to play with different girls and a different coaching staff.”

The men’s squad will be looking to redeem themselves after a 4-2 loss to the Russians in the gold medal game in 2009.

The players cite Team USA as a formidable opponent. As a newcomer to the tournament, they’ll replace the past Chinese hosts.

And what kind of tournament would it be, if it didn’t feature a Canada-USA showdown for hockey supremacy?

“I expect that they’re going to field a very strong team and I think they’ll be confident with what they have, but saying that, we’re confident as well,” said Ironside.

Back in Waterloo, this means that Laurier’s women’s team will be without their star trio for five games, while the men’s team will be missing their captain.

“This will be a good stretch for (backup goaltender Kristen) Kilgallen to show us her stuff,” said women’s coach Rick Osborne, who will insert Brantford-campus player Heather Law and seventh defenceman Amber Broker into the lineup to fill the voids.

“Broker would probably be a top-4 defenceman on any other team in the league, so it’s really tough to have her as a healthy scratch but that gives us the type of depth we need,” said the coach.

“We won’t miss a beat.”