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Stakes rise as Canadian women's hockey team kicks off campaign with camp @NHL

CALGARY - The Canadian women's hockey team opens its 2008-09 season in the rare position of not holding a world championship title.

Forty-one players have been invited to five-day camp in Calgary starting Sept. 17 with a view to reclaiming world supremacy in the sport.

Canada lost 4-3 to the U.S. in the final of the world championship in Harbin, China, in April. It was only the second time in 11 world championships that Canada didn't win the gold medal.

This month's camp is one of several scheduled for the winter as Hockey Canada ramps up the preparation of the women's team for the 2010 Winter Olympics.

Players will be evaluated for possible inclusion on the 2009 world championship team next April, but also for the Four Nations Cup in Lake Placid, N.Y., in November.

About 30 players will be chosen to congregate in Calgary next summer to try out for the Olympic team and train full time in the months leading up to the Games.

The U.S. established a residency program this week in Blaine, Minn., for its players who are not attending colleges.

"The week will be an evaluation of players who are working towards the 2009 world women's championship and final Olympic centralization roster," Canadian head coach Melody Davidson said in a statement.

"It's therefore an important week for these players as we will be selecting our player pool as we look ahead to the next two years."

All Canadians from the 2008 world championship team have been invited to the camp later this month.

Hayley Wickenheiser, from Shaunavon, Sask., will be coming from training camp with the Swedish men's third-tier club Eskilstuna Linden.

Veteran forward Katie Weatherston, of Thunder Bay, Ont., has also been invited, but can't participate due to an ankle injury.

Fellow Olympian Cheryl Pounder of Mississauga, Ont., returns to the women's program after taking last season off to have a child.

Young players to watch include forward Marie-Philip Poulin of Beauceville, Que., who was named top forward at the first world women's under-18 championship in January.

Toronto's Natalie Spooner was the top faceoff woman in the under-18 tournament and also contributed three goals and eight assists in five games.

The women will be split into two squads, which will take on men's midget triple-A teams during camp.

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