Canada’s Bram sisters hope to wear the Maple Leaf as teammates again

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CALGARY — The Bram sisters love being teammates, but those times are rare.

Bailey Bram and sister Shelby of St. Anne, Man., were among the 47 players summoned to the Canadian women’s hockey team camp in Calgary this week.

Bailey, 25, has played in the last three world championships for Canada and was among the last players released from the 2014 Olympic team. Shelby, 22, is trying to make the national team for the first time.

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The sisters were assigned to different training squads when they arrived for the eight-day camp, so they’ll play against each other in the weekend’s intra-squad games. 

The only time they’re worn the Maple Leaf as teammates was in 2012 when they were both named to Canada’s under-22 women’s team for the annual Meco Cup in Germany.

“It would be a dream come true getting to play with her again,” Shelby said. “I’ve had a taste of it at the under-22s. Every year I miss playing with her and we only get the chance to play in the summers together.”

They’re far enough apart in age that they never played minor hockey on the same team. The Brams were college teammates and linemates for a single season at Mercyhurst in Bailey’s senior and Shelby’s freshman years in 2011-12.

Shelby wanted to follow her older sister in everything, including wearing the same earrings.

“I was kind of the annoying little sister,” she said.

But the siblings are not club teammates this season by their own choices. Bailey is returning to the Calgary Inferno of the Canadian Women’s Hockey League, while Shelby has committed to play for the Buffalo Beauts of the new NWHL.

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Each tried to convince the other to change their choice of league, but they remain on other sides of the divide.

Uncertainty of the NWHL’s long-term sustainability and whether she could easily transfer back to the CWHL prodded Bailey back to Calgary where she’s spent the last two seasons. Seven other national team players will be on the Inferno’s roster this winter.

“The facilities here are amazing, I’ve been here for the last two years, I was more comfortable staying here,” Bailey said.

“I’ll see what happens next year if the (NWHL) is successful. I was kind of hesitant about, what happens if it folds? I think after the first year we’ll have more an idea what’s going to happen.”

Shelby was a free agent this summer after her senior year at Mercyhurst. The NWHL has promised to pay its players with a projected salary cap of US$270,000 per team, or an average of $15,000 per player.

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The CWHL isn’t yet in a position to pay its players, so Shelby will be paid to play, while her older sister won’t.

“I almost came to Calgary, but this new league offered me a great contract and they’re starting to pay their players,” Shelby said. “It would just help out so much that I would get paid instead of taking a loan out or getting a part-time job in Calgary.”

Bailey and Shelby grew up in a family of eight children — three brothers played in the Manitoba Junior Hockey League — in a town of about 1,500 southeast of Winnipeg.

Bailey’s progress from rookie to veteran on the Canadian team accelerated the winter she was centralized in Calgary in 2013-14.

The Canadian women play more games and practice more together in the seven months leading into the Olympic Games than they do in the three years in between Olympics.

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“My confidence went up, my strength went up, my skating went up,” Bailey said. “Every little detail of my game I think improved.

“In 2013, I was basically still a rookie. I was happy being a cheerleader on the bench. In 2015, I was one of the older players and had been around. The younger girls kind of looked up to me for experience. It was neat to be in a different role like that.”

The five-foot-eight, 150-pound forward can play centre or on the wing. At five-foot-three and 130 pounds, Shelby will likely have to make the Canadian team at centre as she wouldn’t match up well defending a six-foot winger.

Shelby is the more efficient skater, while Bailey can use her size to be tougher on the puck and has the experience to be patient with it.

“They’re both smart players, they both definitely play at a high speed,” Canadian team general manager Melody Davidson said.

“Both play a gritty, hard game. Interestingly enough, Shelby can sometimes play a grittier game, whereas Bailey can maybe finesse a little bit more.”

The Canadian women’s team concludes camp Sunday. Canada will attempt to defend their Four Nations Cup title in Sundsvall, Sweden, in November. They’ll also attempt to reclaim the world championship on home ice in Kamloops, B.C., from March 28 to April 4.

Donna Spencer, The Canadian Press

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