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Calgary's CWHL squad prepare to take on Japan's national woman's team in pair of exhibition games

by PAUL MAWDSLEY @pmawdsley23 /

CALGARY - Half-way around the world, the Calgary Inferno are on the trip of a lifetime.

The club is in Tomakomai, Japan to play a pair of exhibition games against Japan's national women's team. 

"It's been unbelievable," said Inferno goalie Emerance Maschmeyer, by phone from Japan. "We've only been here for a day and a half and I've seen more than I could imagine.

"It's definitely surreal. I still can't believe that I'm here. It's been incredible and we haven't even played yet."

Japan's team is preparing for their Olympic qualifying tournament in February and wanted a quality opponent to help get them into game shape. 

Currently ranked seventh in the world, Japan just narrowly missed an automatic berth into the Olympics, and therefore must earn a spot.

It was a few connections to the Inferno that led the Japanese team to reach out to them.

"They're gearing up for the Olympic trials, so they approached us to play the Japanese national team because we had connections with our head coach Scott Reid being a goalie coach for them and two players on our team," explained Inferno captain Brianne Jenner. "We're in a lucky position and it's going to be great hockey, but we're enjoying the touring side of it as well."

Jenner, a veteran of the international competition scene, has played against Japan as a member of Canada's national team - which has 14 Inferno players on its roster - and understands that these exhibition games won't be easy.

Especially losing two key players to the opposition.

Tweet from @Iya_Gavri: We are ready for our first skate in Japan ���� @InfernoCWHL

"I think they're a pretty talented team, just judging from the two defenceman we have on our team," Jenner laughed, referencing teammates Aina Takechu and Akane Hosoyamada. "The growth of the sport in their country is happening fast and they're becoming more competitive on the national level. 

"We certainly know it won't be an easy game and hopefully we can get over the jet lag and give them a good couple of games."

Defenceman Takechu and Hosoyamada will trade in their Inferno silks and don their country's colours while on the trip.

Calgary would much rather have the two talented players on their side of the ice, but they realize that these exhibition games are more for the Japanese women than the Inferno.

"Of course I love them playing in front of me," joked Maschmeyer. "But it'll be a lot of fun playing against them. They have an important tournament coming up and we're happy that we can come and help them prepare for the qualifier."

"It's a bit different, but we're used to that - playing against former college teammates, or national team teammates in the CHWL," admitted Jenner. "It'll be different, but it'll be fun to talk to them on the ice here and there. It'll be a good experience.

Hockey isn't the sole purpose of the trip for the Inferno.  

With the entire team on the trip and getting to experience a brand new country and culture together, it's just as much or more about team bonding than anything else. 

"We're just trying to enjoy the whole experience from trying all the food, seeing as many things as we can see," said Jenner. "We're here to play hockey, but this is a once in a lifetime opportunity,"

"Any experience you have with the team where you can mix fun and hockey, it's where you build a lot of memories and become closer." Maschmeyer explained.

For any fans looking to watch these games, you'll have to stay up late. Due to the time change, the contests will start in the middle of night in Calgary. 

Game 1: Jan. 28, 2 a.m. MT
Game 2: Jan. 29, 2 a.m. MT

Only three weekends of regular-season hockey remain before the CWHL playoffs and the Inferno are hoping that these games will help keep them playing the type of hockey that has them in first place with a 17-3 record.

 "As we go into the next couple weeks, we're going into our last couple regular season weekends and playoffs, so this is a good time to bond and just really enjoy the experience as a team," Jenner said. "We're going to use these games to stay in game shape and in tip top form for the games coming up.

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