Canada and USA still dominate women's hockey

BEIJING — Andrea Braendli, a Swiss goalkeeper, had no idea of ​​an Olympic gold medal. “If we play for a gold medal,” she said ahead of...


BEIJING — Andrea Braendli, a Swiss goalkeeper, had no idea of ​​an Olympic gold medal.

“If we play for a gold medal,” she said ahead of the Beijing Games, “it will be a miracle on the ice.”

Her assessment was as lucid as any regarding the women’s hockey tournament. Despite all the talk and all the hopes of parity in women’s hockey, the tournament will end like all but one of the others at the Olympics: with Canada and the United States dueling for gold, and two more – this time , Finland and Switzerland — seek bronze.

Measured by the average winning margins of the Americans and Canadians when they played either team next to each other, the tournament is the most lopsided at the Games since 2010, when there was open talk about the opportunity to keep women’s hockey as an Olympic sport.

This discussion is now more confined to social media and newspaper columns, and the International Ice Hockey Federation is even talking about expanding the women’s tournament, which this year has grown to include 10 teams, to match the men’s competition of 12. nations.

This could ultimately prove to be some sort of competitive remedy and give more countries new incentives to support women’s hockey programs. In the meantime, however, another Olympic cycle yields an outcome that may seem as predestined as any international sport.

It’s true that the Americans and Canadians haven’t won every game by double digits and that a fiery Czech Republic team, making their debut in the Women’s Olympic tournament, turned the United States into a debacle. last week. But Monday’s semifinal clash pitted Canada and the United States against teams they had already easily outplayed.

Monday brought more of the same. Canada defeated Switzerland, 10-3, while the United States edged Finland, 4-1.

The bronze medal will be settled on Wednesday in Beijing, while the eternal American-Canadian confrontation for gold will be played on Thursday (Wednesday evening in Canada and the United States).

North American players insist that women’s hockey is fast approaching a more engrossing competition due to increased spending and interest around the world. Their game, like many other women’s sports, is in catch-up mode; men’s hockey made its Olympic debut 78 years before women’s hockey.

“The gap is definitely closing, which is impressive from a 30,000 foot perspective,” said Hilary Knight, an American in her fourth Olympics. “From a competitive perspective, you always want to win, but it’s wonderful to see other countries investing more in women’s ice hockey and allocating resources, because that’s really what different teams need to compete.”

As US Captain Kendall Coyne Schofield said, “If they don’t have the tools to succeed, you give them a sentence that doesn’t allow them to succeed. It’s often the case in women’s sports: go out and be as good as the men with half the resources.”

Both women have sought to improve their pay and put the sport in the spotlight. The battle for public attention, however, is relentless and there are still entrenched inequalities in player development, even in a women’s hockey powerhouse like the United States. In a report last year, for example, investigators said the NCAA spent more than $9,800 per student participating in its men’s national hockey tournament in 2019 — and $3,421 per player in the women’s competition. .

Despite the headwinds, there were signs of possible pitfalls for the Americans and Canadians, evidence that the North American teams seized on to energize the public – and themselves – that their opponents were closing in.

European expectations remained muted anyway.

“It’s improved a lot where other countries are giving the United States and Canada a hard time, but I don’t think you can say they’re not the favourites,” Zuzana Tomcikova said. , the Slovak goaltender in the 2010 match against which the Canadians won, 18-0. “Europe is getting there. It is getting there and, if you look at it from one side, slowly because it will be years before other countries can compete with the United States and Canada.

Tomcikova, who predicted the Czech team could induce North American heartburn in Beijing, sees two developing, albeit far from quick, strategies to develop the game.

One is the simple fact that women’s hockey, populated by elite players reminiscing about when they were the only girls on hometown rinks, is more visible than ever, with expanded television exposure. encouraging the next generation of players to start training earlier. Another is the type of training available, with greater sophistication, greater frequency and easier access to high quality training and competition.

Monday, however, showed how far the game has to go. In just over three minutes, Canada scored five goals. Switzerland only managed two shots.

Braendli and Switzerland will therefore play for bronze.

“Playing for a medal, it doesn’t matter what type of medal it is,” she said. “It’s a huge deal.”

It was also, pretty much everyone knew, the best anyone beyond North America could have aspired to at that time.

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Newsrust - US Top News: Canada and USA still dominate women's hockey
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