TAMPA, Fla. — Four years later the memory still stings like an open wound.
It was on Dec. 22, 2013 that Bailey Bram was informed she would not be a member of the Canadian women’s hockey team at the 2014 Olympic Games in Sochi. Not unless somebody got hurt.
“I was brought into a room and told, ‘Unfortunately at this point you are going to be named an alternate and if someone gets hurt, you’ll play. If not you’ll just practise with the team until it leaves for Sochi. If no one gets hurt you won’t be going,'” Bram recalled.
And by the way, enjoy your Christmas.
As she spoke those words, she worked desperately to hold back her tears. It still hurts that much.
But like many who have gone through a similar experience only to get back on the horse, Bram is back. Though Team Canada still has to make five cuts before participating in the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, Bram has asserted herself nicely as a solid, two-way threat who thinks defence first, yet has the ability to chip in on offence.
While Bram didn’t make it onto the score sheet in Canada’s 4-0 win over Finland at the Four Nations Cup Friday afternoon, she certainly was a factor in the game killing penalties, taking the odd turn late on the power play and breaking up plays much to the dismay of the Finns.
“Bailey has shown tremendous resiliency,” Team Canada coach Laura Schuler said. “She is an all-around player who is capable of playing on any of our four lines. That is a good thing. She is a player that can really put pressure on the opponent. She has great speed and she kills a lot of penalties.”
Against Finland Friday, Canada got goals from Jennifer Wakefield, her fourth in two games, Brianne Jenner, Sarah Nurse and captain Marie-Philip Poulin. Goalie Genevieve made eight saves in recording her second shutout in as many starts.
Canada will play for gold on Sunday against arch-rival U.S.
At the end of the day Canada won the gold medal in Sochi, so it’s a little hard to argue with the player selection. Just don’t try to tell that to Bram. To nobody’s surprise, Bram said watching those Games was difficult.
“That whole Olympics for me is a little bit of a blur,” she said. “I do remember watching the games, but when you train for a whole year with the girls and they are your best friends, it’s tough not to be a part of it. Still, I was so proud of them and so happy for them when they won.”
Bram, 27, admitted it took a while, with a lot of sports psychology sessions, to get over the disappointment. She said she came out tougher at the other end.
“I knew I had a lot more in me to give,” said the five-foot-eight, 140-pound left winger. “I wasn’t done. I was pretty young at the time and I think I learned a lot from it. Going through that has helped make me the player I am now.”
And that player is one that flatly refuses to be outworked by an opponent.
‘Pride myself on details’
“I think I have learned the game a lot more,” Bram said. “I know our system like the back of my hand. I pride myself on the little details and habits of the game, whether it’s a little chip along the boards to move the puck or a big block on the penalty-kill. Those are the things that will get our team going. I’m probably not the one who is going to score the big goal, but if I can stop the puck from going to the back of our net, then I have done my job.”
Not being part of the 2014 Olympics meant not being there with her longtime friend Jocelyne Larocque. The two hail from Ste. Anne, a small town in Manitoba with a population of 2,114. Larocque, a small, but punishing defenceman, was equally as disappointed.
“That was obviously tough on her, but it was tough on me, too,” Larocque said. “It’s something I would have loved to share with her. I was released in 2010, so I know exactly how she felt and it’s not a fun feeling. At the end of the day in 2013 she played hard every day and had no regrets. She plays with a lot of heart and that is something that is so valuable.”
The 2013 experience aside, Bram said it is special to be one of 28 players being considered for the 2018 Olympic team. She knows how many players across Canada would love to be in her skates.
Bram said there is a certain underlying nervousness that nearly all players face when trying out for a team, yet she knows she can only control the things she does. And she’s okay with that.
“I always say I want to be the hardest working person on the ice,” Bram said. “If I lose a battle it drives me to be better so it doesn’t happen again.”