TORONTO — Renata Fast and the rest of Team Canada have been waiting more than eight months — since Feb. 22, to be precise — for another shot at Team USA.
With the Four Nations Cup set to kick off and that match-up now just days away, it’s safe to say the defenceman and her teammates are raring to go.
“Oh yeah,” says Fast, grinning and nodding. “We’re ready.”
It’s a couple hours before Fast and her Toronto Furies teammates will earn their first win of the CWHL season. She is revisiting what happened earlier this year in South Korea, when she and Team Canada stood on the blue line, tears in most of their eyes as silver medals were hung around their necks. They’d just lost in a shoot-out to Team USA — had seen Canada’s Olympic gold medal streak snapped at four.
“We never want to feel what we felt standing on the blue line in South Korea — never again,” says the 24-year-old from Burlington, Ont., where Rogers Hometown Hockey makes a stop this weekend. “It’s brought so much motivation to everyone. Everything we’re doing, we’re doing to get better and to not feel that again.”
On Monday, Fast and the national team will take flight to Saskatoon, which will play host to the Four Nations Cup between Nov. 6 and 10. Canada will meet Team USA, Finland and Sweden in the four-team tournament that’s been going since 1996.
The Americans will be looking for a fourth straight title. The Canadians, silver medallists in the last three straight, will be vying for their first win since 2014.
“This tournament is huge for us,” Fast says. “It’s important that we start out well, because this is the start of another [Olympic] quadrennial.”
It’s at this tournament three years ago that Fast made her debut with the senior national team. After coming up with Canada’s development team, she’d tried out in 2014 with the senior club, but a Jennifer Wakefield slap shot broke her ankle during tryouts. She ended up missing both the tournament and more than two months of her junior year at Clarkson University. It was tough to come back from the injury, in part because Fast returned to the ice a little sooner than she should’ve, but the debut with Team Canada in 2015 was well worth the wait.
“Just to be able to put on the jersey was so special,” says Fast. “That first [Four Nations] tournament was a huge learning experience for me, not only from the coaches but from the players as well. It was that moment: ‘I’m here, I made my first tournament,’ and I was just trying to learn as much as I possibly could.”
If you ask her teammates, Fast didn’t need much time to adapt. “Fast is really fast,” says Natalie Spooner, her Furies and Team Canada teammate. “I know that’s her name, but I mean it.”
National team captain Marie-Philip Poulin calls Fast “really dangerous” and “one to watch for,” and Furies general manager Sami Jo Small points out the defender is “fun to watch, because she’s always creating something.”
The Burlington native won an NCAA title with Clarkson while a sophomore, but her contributions went far beyond points and penalty kills. She was awarded the Clarkson Booster Club’s Unsung Hero Award, given annually to the player who puts the team first and serves as a role model.
“I love what she brings to the team,” says Small, who became Furies GM this past summer. “When I was thinking about building this franchise in particular, it was really with her personality in mind. I wanted somebody that was humble, that had that ambience of excellence, that respects her opponents and the people around her. She epitomized all those attributes I wanted for this franchise.
“She’s such a great leader, but not in your face. She has the ability to motivate those around her by working hard and with her work ethic.”
In 2016–17, her first season with the Furies, Fast was a finalist for CWHL rookie of the year and paced all Toronto defencemen in points. She’s no stranger to joining the rush, in part because she grew up playing right wing for the Burlington Barracudas, where she played her whole minor hockey career. It wasn’t until she was 15 or 16 that Fast first began playing D, and not by choice.
“I told my coaches: ‘Nope, I’m not playing defence — don’t like it.’ But they forced me,” she says of Steve Gibson and Jock Fairbairn, her Barracudas bench bosses.
It took a couple weeks to get comfortable playing the point, she adds, “but then I ended up really liking it. You can see the ice way better as a defenceman.”
This past February marked Fast’s first-ever Olympics, and when her parents made the trip over, they brought a massive banner with them, signed by a bunch of young Barracudas players, wishing Fast and the rest of Team Canada luck.
“A little piece of home,” Fast says. “That was really special.”
The silver medal she won in Pyeongchang now sits on a shelf in her room reserved for her most prized awards won in hockey, but there’s an unwelcome trend to the hardware Fast has amassed as part of Canada’s senior team: All the medals are silver. Her world championship debut, in 2017, saw Canada lose in overtime to Team USA.
“It’s motivating if I look at the tournaments I’ve been to and our placement. There’s a lot of silver there, and that’s something we all want to change,” she says. “The Four Nations Cup is a huge opportunity to go for gold. I’m looking forward to it.”
So too, no doubt, is the rest of Team Canada, who’ve waited a long time for another clash with their American rivals.
“It’s important that we show the world that we belong up top,” Fast says.