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Women’s Hockey – Progress?

April 26, 2011

As an avid hockey fan, this time  of year is incredibly busy and my emotions run from excessively happy down to irritatedly depressed.  Yes, there are the Stanley Cup Playoffs and the Memorial Cup Playoffs, but there are also the World Championships. On this side of the pond, the World’s don’t get much notice due to the Cup Playoffs and the Women’s World’s unfortunately don’t get much coverage at all here or there.

Over there, the World’s are the thing.  Originally, European hockey players grew up wanting to win the World’s for their country. Second in line is the Olympic gold and more recently, the Stanley Cup.

For female hockey players, however, the World’s and Olympics are the ONLY things.  There are various other major tournaments, but with the Olympics over, its the World’s.  After Vancouver, many people, including the IOC president, stated that women’s ice hockey was on a short leash due to the lack of ‘competition.’ While Canada and the USA were at a comparable level, other countries had not improved in the same manner and were being blown out by the two super-powers. For the sport to stay in the Olympics, more than two countries had to be competitive.

At the 2006 Olympics, it was thought that Sweden had joined the top two teams when they knocked off the USA and won the silver medal.  However, just four years later the Swedish team had fallen on hard times and the naysayers appeared again. How interesting could it be to watch the same two teams vie for top spot every tournament?

This year’s World Championships has shown that, while Canada and the USA were again the top teams in the tournament, there has definitely been improvement in the level of play from many of the other countries.  Finland has been on the rise even as Sweden has declined. The quarterfinals provided a great deal of excitement as host Switzerland almost made the medal round but was overtaken by a huge come-back  and overtime win by the Russians.

By the end of the tournament, the USA had won their third consecutive World Championship (also in overtime) over the Canadians and the Finns beat out the Russians for the bronze.  Not surprisingly, the All-Stars were mostly from Canada and USA, but the top goaltender was the spectacular Zuzana Tomcikova from Slovakia.  She was the entire reason the Slovakians qualified for the tournament. There are sparkling stars from each country, but it will be some time before entire teams are at the same level as the USAs and Canadas of the world.

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