03/25/2013 08:52 EDT | Updated 05/25/2013 05:12 EDT

Canada gets ready for women's world hockey championship in Ottawa

OTTAWA - Canadian head coach Dan Church finally got a chance to see what his team will look like for the upcoming women's world hockey championship.

Canada held its first practice in Ottawa on Monday in preparation for two exhibition games later this week. The tournament will be held April 2-9.

"It was great to get on the ice," said Church. "It was a really good first session, lots of energy and good to be back together as a team."

The roster was officially unveiled March 18, but Monday marked the first time the team was together as a group.

Many of the Canadian players compete against each other during the regular season — either in the Canadian Women's Hockey League or for university clubs.

"It's always exciting for all of us to be wearing the same colour jersey," said defender Tessa Bonhomme. "It will be nice to put one solid unit together and we were all flying out there at practice."

Canada will play the Gatineau Mustangs, a Junior B team from Gatineau, in Petawawa, Ont., on Thursday night and Sweden on Saturday in Pembroke, Ont.

Canada's roster for the upcoming championships is nearly identical to last year's gold medal team and Church thinks fans can expect to see a strong, skilled team.

"We play a really good Canadian style of hockey," said Church. "We've got some really skilled forwards, physical defenders and great goaltending. We'll play with some skill and some gritty, physical Canadian hockey."

While the familiarity will definitely serve as an asset for Team Canada, they also realize they can't take anything for granted.

"Our program is really good at keeping that consistency and exposing a lot of players," said forward Jayna Hefford. "We have a strong group, a young group, a group with a lot of experience and we have a good team chemistry and we're looking to build on that this week and it doesn't happen easily, but I think we have a group here that could definitely win a gold medal."

The one question mark at this time is Hayley Wickenheiser who "tweaked" her knee during the Canadian Interuniversity Sport's championship semifinal. Wickenheiser will join the team Tuesday and reports look good for her being ready for the start of the tournament.

"We'll have a better idea once she gets here, but it seems to be progressing on schedule," said Church.

Both players and coaches realize the pressure will be intense to repeat as champions, and even more so on Canadian soil, but they look forward to using the energy from the fans.

"It's always amazing to play here, especially in Ottawa," said forward Gillian Apps. "The fans here have always been so great to us."

Canada opens the tournament April 2 against the United States at Scotiabank Place.

Canada is the defending champion after beating the U.S. in overtime in last year's final in Burlington, Vt.

"What a way to kick off the tournament," said Bonhomme. "What more could we ask for. Those are special games.

"We are going to have to walk into this tournament prepared."