"Being part of that team in Torino is just motivation itself to try and do it again in Vancouver," said Apps, whose father played 727 NHL games, and whose legendary grandfather Syl won three Stanley Cups with the Maple Leafs and was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1961."I think just kind of neat for me to able to contribute to the story of my family."
Hefford - who has felt both the elation of Olympic victory (gold medalist 2002 and 2006) and the bitterness of defeat (silver medalist 1998) - by all accounts should be a lock to be a participant in her fourth Winter Games. However the 30-year-old Kingston native is looking over her shoulder, as are all Team Canada veterans, to stay ahead of the younger players in order to secure a spot on the team which will take to the ice in 25 months.
"Our program is so strong and so deep," noted Hefford."I think we're being challenged for spots every single year.I don't think anyone really gets complacent or feels comfortable in their spot because there are too many good players in our country."
Apps, 24, concurs with her national and local teammate."There are young kids knocking on the door that are coming up in this country that are phenomenal players.I think every year we have to earn our spot and keep our spot, and I think that since we're going to Vancouver and defending the gold medal, it'll keep everybody on their toes."
Players such as Apps and Hefford and several Olympians on both sides of the Canada-U.S.A. border received a scare when the National Women's Hockey League suspended operations last May.However, thanks largely due to corporate sponsorship, the NWHL's replacement - the Canadian Women's Hockey League - has picked up where the previous league left off.
"All the teams that were in the (NWHL) last year are in (the CWHL) again this year," said Hefford of the seven teams based out of Ontario and Quebec, including the Thunder."There's been a lot of challenges in terms of trying to raise enough money to make sure that the league can survive.
"But for the most part, we have the same teams and same caliber of hockey and we're kind of in a building process and we're hoping that this is going to be something that is going to build and is going to last for years to come."
Several of the CWHL's teams are supported by the girls' minor hockey associations within their respective communities.The league has also successfully received support in the form of corporate sponsorship in the hopes that the trend towards raising the profile of women's hockey will continue.
"The biggest challenge is to get more people out to the games," noted Hefford."That's marketing, to market you need money and you need support. It's a challenge to try and figure out what comes first, but I think we have a product here, and it's a matter of getting the word out and getting people in the stands.We're hoping to get more and more companies that are willing to come on board and help us build this thing, from the bottom up."
However neither Hefford nor Apps warmed to the suggestion of making bodychecking a legal part of the women's game as a way of making the sport more marketable to fans.
"I don't think there should be (body contact)," opined Hefford."I think that we have a unique brand, and I think that we want to be able to maintain the skill and the finesse in our league.I think that (body contact) would take away from it a little bit, if you were able to just get the biggest girls that could go out and slow the game down.I think that having a physical game is important for us, because I think people like to see that. So we need to find a way to maintain a physical game without incorporating full bodychecking."
Apps, whose six-foot frame qualifies her as one of the 'biggest girls' referenced by her teammate, agrees."I think that if you did bring it in, you would have to start with the young kids and kind of have it grandfathered, just because the way our game has developed - it's kind of a speed and finesse game.I think that if you added bodychecking, some of the smaller and more skilled players would lose their role on the team, and I think that's important in our game."
For just over the next two years, both players will endure the rigours of training while maintaining a balance in their professional careers.Hefford and Apps are both grateful to their employer, RBC, for the opportunity to do some schedule juggling as the next Winter Games approach.
"They have an Olympians program, which is a unique program.It's part-time work and it's a salaried position, so it's flexible and allows us to train. So, between that and the amount of training that we do, it pretty much takes up most of my time," said Hefford.
The country that will host the next Winter Olympics will enter the tournament as an odds-on favourite to defend the gold medal.Hefford was complimentary in sizing up Team Canada's potential opponents who stand in the way of a third consecutive Olympic title."(Team U.S.A.) is young and they're building, and they're always right there.It was really encouraging to see Team Finland in the Four Nations Cup because they showed a lot of improvement and a lot of promise."
However Hefford also provided a reminder that the team wearing the maple leaf is still the team to beat.
"But we're still getting better too, so we're not ready to let everyone catch up just yet!"
© Rob Del Mundo, 2008