Today Team Finland will play Team Canada in a semi-finals game at the 2011 World Women's Hockey Championship. This is hardly rare. The two teams often find themselves facing off in final 4s of major tournaments with the other frequent notables Team USA & Team Sweden.
What is different is, Sweden, a team that just 5 years ago shocked the womens game by grabbing a silver medal at the Olympics, will be fighting for 5th place against the Swiss team...who came close to making it into the semi-finals themselves after losing a playoff game in overtime to the shocker of the tournament so far....
The other semi-final has frequent finalists Team U.S.A. taking on Team Russia. Yes, the same Russian team that just last year had people in the hockey world calling the countries womens program, an embarrassment after finishing 6th at the Olympics & frankly, looked lost & unlikely to immediately improve. Now they find themselves in the final 4 of a World Championship.
The 2011 tourney has given most of the teams that have been struggling to gain on the North American superpowers hope for the future in 1 way or another.
Finland - A close 2-0 loss to Canada in the round robin tourney is a positive after a tough 5-0 loss to Canada in the semi-finals of the Olympics made some wonder if the program was starting to fall behind the big two after getting beat 11-0 combined to the eventual Gold & Silver medallists.
Russia- by making the semi-finals gives a hockey proud country reason to believe they can now compete in the tournament, and with the Olympics on home soil next time in 2014, perhaps they are thinking seriously about contending for a medal by then.
Switzerland - In recent years the Swiss team has slowly chipped away at trying to close the gap on the 2nd tier of elite teams, the Swedes and Finns. Three years ago they made the bronze medal game, before falling to the Finns. This year, although a loss to the Russians might seem like a small loss for them, they did manage a big victory as well when they defeated Finland in OT 2-1.
Slovakia- just 2 years ago, ranked 15th in the world, has now managed to compete in an Olympics last year & a World Championships this year, due to the team from Japan pulling out after the tragedy after the earthquake there. These are huge steps for a country that never ranked higher than 15th till last year when they jumped up to 10th. While they are facing relegation right now, the experience is vital for helping them move forward in future years.
Kazakhstan - Although on the brink of relegation, the country can take away from the fact they havent seemed to lose any ground to the bigger countries, and are still remaining competitive with the 2nd tier of teams, as shown by a 5-3 loss to Finland they can on any given night still have a hope to win.
The question of the tourney is Sweden. In 2008 they finished a disappointing 5th in the Worlds. a year later they got back into 4th & things seemed back to normal there. Since then, 2010 Olympics they missed the podium with a 4th place finish & this year, a 5th or 6th place finish is a concern.
The overall consensus of the game though is its doing great & things look bright for the health of a sport that at the 2010 Olympics got unfairly criticized by the IOC head.
Today 4 teams will compete for 2 spots in the final.
before you write that Canada-USA final nmatch up in pen, just remember, this tourney has had a hand full of small upsets already, could 1 more be in the making?
To celebrate this tourney, I have added a few of the pics I took from a tourney here in the summer of 2009 of some of the competitors in this tourney.
IF YOU WANT TO USE THESE PHOTOS ELSEWHERE, FEEL FREE- JUST DO NOT REMOVE THE TAG!
You can catch Canada-Finland on TSN at 7 AM Pacific/10 AM Eastern.
part 2 of the list..
5TH HENRIK SEDIN - ART ROSS TROPHY & HART TROPHY WINNER
I dare you to find a single person anywhere on the planet, including in Sweden, in Vancouver, or even in the Sedin household who would have boldly stated at the start of the 09-10 season the leagues MVP & scoring champion would be 1 of the Vancouver Canucks longtime twin brothers.
While the brothers Daniel & Henrik have certainly stepped into that elite star level in the past couple years, even I, one of their biggest supporters since day 1, could not have guessed, let alone believed 1 of them would win the Art Ross Trophy & later that year, be awarded the Hart Trophy.
The more amazing part is, the common (and previously proven on multiple occasions) misconception that the brothers are less effective when seperated was blown out of the water when Henrik had to play without Daniel at his side for 19 games due to an injury to his brother early on in the season.
Henrik Sedin became the Vancouver Canucks 1st ever scoring champion, 1st ever Hart Trophy winner & the teams newest Captain in the year 2010. Making Hanks scoring title more amazing was the down to the wire fight he had with two of the games biggest icons, Alex Ovechkin & Sidney Crosby & his memorable 4 point final game, which was of course topped off by his final point of the year, a no look tip pass to his brother for Daniels 3rd goal of the game, Henriks 112th point & a TSN Play Of The Year win.
For a franchise that has been often tagged with a label of failure & underachievers, having a player win 2 of the major awards at once is one of the biggest moments in this franchises long & frustrating career. With the exceptions of this teams Stanley Cup Finals runs of 1982 & 1994, nothing in this franchises history comes even remotely close to the accomplishment of Hank last season.
The start of the 2010-11 season has seen the Sedins work their magic even more, with both brothers currently in the top 10 in league scoring it looks like 2011 will again be a big year for the Canucks future top 2 all-time point scorers for the franchise.
4th CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS- STANLEY CUP CHAMPIONS
It wasnt that long ago that the only way the Blackhawks & Stanley Cup Champions were ever mentioned in the same sentence was when they were facing the Detroit Red Wings in a game during the season.
But since the death of Bill Wirtz, the cancerous soffocating owner of the team, the Hawks had started to soar. With draftees like Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane & Duncan Keith in recent years, the fans started to think things might be turning around.
In 2010, they turned around alright. The Hawks went from the "up & coming" team to THE TEAM as they went on to win their 1st Stanley Cup in 49 years off the stick of their cornerstone player, Patrick Kane in overtime of game 6 of the finals over the Philadelphia Flyers on 1 of the most anti-climactic ends to a hockey championship ever.
The Hawks other wonder foward, Jonathan Toews, was awarded the Conn Smythe Trophy for Playoff MVP after a 29 pts in 22 games performance.
The Hawks started the playoffs against the Nashville Predators, a series they once trailed 2-1, but eventually won 4-2. Next up was the Vancouver Canucks, a team who most assumed would be ready to get revenge for the Hawks upsetting them the year prior. But they never were really in the series, and would eventually be knocked out by Chicago 4-2. The San Jose Sharks, who for several years had been continually considered "Cup contenders" got the closest they have gotten since the lockout, but would be swept by the flying Hawks 4-0.
In the Stanley Cup finals, the Hawks faced the Philadelphia Flyers. A team that came into the playoffs barely, and would become only the 3rd NHL team to win a series after being down 3-0 when they beat the Boston Bruins earlier in the playoffs. As it turned out though, Chicago was just too much for them. Despite the first 4 games being tied 2-2 & only 1 goal difference between the teams, it was starting to look like the Hawks might be getting better. In game 5, they showed their bite, winning 7-4 & knocking the wind out of the Flyers sails. Philadelphia put up a strong fight in game 6, but were defeated in OT when Patrick Kane slipped a shot past Michael Leighton that fooled everyone outside of Kane for several seconds.
With only ONE playoff round in 11 years, just 2 years prior, few expected the Hawks to make this surge this quick, but after a surprising run 2009 that saw them get to the Conference finals before bowing out, a lot of eyes were focused on them in the spring of 2010 & they dd not disappoint.
Unfortunately for the Hawks, the NHL Salary Cap hit them hard after their Cup win & several very notable pieces of the team, including their #1 goalie, a notable power forward (who also makes the list further down) & a couple other skill players have departed, leaving the Hawks as a good, but not great team now.
3rd- PAT BURNS NOT SELECTED TO THE HOCKEY HALL OF FAME
Imagine if you would, the idea of Phil Jackson, Pat Riley or Don Shula being deathly ill, retired for more than 3 years from their profession, the HOF committee being abundantly aware they likely will not survive a year...and excluding them from the Hall in the most recent selection.
If you think its unimaginable. This is what happened this year to the only 3 time winner of the coach of the year award in the NHL, Pat Burns. Burns was diagnosed with terminal cancer awhile ago, this past year he was eligible for the Hall. The Hall was made very aware by massive campaigns to have Burns put in the hall before his impending death, of his situation. However the committee, who are not held accountable for their actions by ANYONE, pulled the most classless of actions in snubbing Pat in favour of a man who was himself already deceased.
The largest complaint amongst Burns supporters were, Doc Seaman could have waited till another year, as he had already passed away, Burns, still currently alive & clearly dying soon, could at least get to experience the ceremony. But the Hall didnt seem to care. The lack of respect they showed Burns by neglecting to include him (a person EVERYONE knows is going in anyways) while he was still alive has made many analysts, players & fans sick to their stomach & it has really tarnished the committee & made people show them little to no respect.
With the most ever coach of the year honours in the league, a Stanley Cup title & constantly deemed one of the greatest coaches of recent times all under Burns cap, the Hall seemed like a no-brainer...unfortunately, people with less than no brain were in charge of picking.
2nd- WOMEN PLAYERS IN THE HALL OF FAME
A couple years ago, the HHOF made an announcement that women could now be elected into the Hockey Hall Of Fame on their merits in their sport, and would no longer be compared to the mens game for the rare spots in the hall.
This year, the HHOF Committee made the major decision to include the 1st women's hockey players in the Hall. Canadian Angela James, long considered the "Wayne Gretzky of hockey" before Hayley Wickenheiser would take over in this more media covered era went in along side American Cammi Granato, the captain of the 1st ever Olympic Champion women's hockey team.
Cammi & Angela went in along with NHLer Dino Ciccarelli. While the poorly informed fans yelled at the top of their lungs the injustice of several NHLers being ignored in place of the womens stars, those that understood the process applauded the HHOF Committee at their inclusion, yet chastized them in the same breath for not selecting more NHLers with a backlog of big stars waiting & more to come. What some seem to still not understand, even months later is... that Granato & James were never "stealing" spots from the NHLers, as they were selected on their own merits in their own category, like builders.
The two stars made names for themselves in the sport in different ways. Cammi, the captain of the only American Olympic Gold medal winning team, was raised into a hockey family that included former NHLer Tony Granato. Her career included a successful College career, lots of time with the U.S. National team & a short stop at the end of her career in the WWHL.
Angela never got to play in the Olympics, as she was cut for the final roster of the first ever squad to go to the Olympics in 1998. Till this day, questions of whether the slap in the face to her may have bitten the silver medal squad the Canadians went with in the butt are asked. James career was spent playing against boys, and eventually in the league that would eventually (thru a couple name changes) become the CWHL many years later. She got to play for Team Canada a few times on the World stage, but never in the Olympics. The moniker of "The Wayne Gretzky of womens hockey" was often placed on her before the newer generation adopted the same title for the now best player in the game, Hayley Wickenheiser.
Many have wondered how the Hall can be so incompetent in excluding Burns from the Hall, yet so intuitive as to include women's players, in the very same year.
With women's hockey having large boosts this year with the Olympics, the emergence of the CWHL as their premiere league and now the inclusion of players in the Hall Of Fame, 2010 was a pretty great year for the sport of women's hockey.
In future years, the likes of Heaney, Nieminen, Goyette, Wickenheiser and more will enter. In most cases, it will be thanks to Cammi Granato & Angela James taking those first steps in that they will find their road in much more accepted.
1st - OH CANADA!!
It is an event that only happens every 4 years & in recent versions the NHL's finest have taken to the worlds largest winter sports stage.
The 2010 Olympic Winter games took part in my hometown, Vancouver, BC, Canada this past year & with the worlds eyes on our city, our home teams did not disappoint.
Canada won both the women's & mens Gold medal. While the womens tournament was a bit lopsided from the top 2 teams to the mid tier teams, the mens event, unarguably the marquee event of the Olympics, was some of the best hockey ever seen. Upstarts like Switzerland (who took Canada to a shootout in the round robin tourney) & Slovakia (the 9th ranked IIHF team coming in) caused the big boys of the tourney headaches & showed that there might be hope for these nations in the near future.
With millions of Canadians nervously watching, holding on to a fleeting 1 goal lead, American Zach Parise caused a near national mass suicide when he tied the game up with 25 seconds left in regulation. In the end however, it did nothing more than make a dramatic storybook ending, even more storybook. The stick of Sidney Crosby would inevetably be the most important in Vancouver, as his overtime winning goal past American goaltender Ryan Miller, would send not just a city, or even the province, but the entire country into a frenzy. The bronze medal would see Olli Jokinen score the game winning goal to give Finland the bronze over the upstart Slovakian team, powered by the incredible goaltending of Jaroslav Halak.
The women's tourney saw a new superstar emerge for Canada, as Marie Philip Poulin, an 18 year old became the hero, scoring the only 2 goals in the Gold Medal game, while Olympic rookie goalie Shannon Szabados shut the door at the other end allowing Canada to win their 3rd straight Gold medal 2-0 over the U.S. team. In the bronze medal game, Finland would knock off the 2006 silver medalist Swedes in overtime with a Karolina Rantamaki bankshot that fooled Swedish goalie Sara Grahn.
In the mens tourney, things were considered great. For the NHL, the Canada vs USA final was a dream match for the powers that be. The only way the leagues midget troll of doom would have been happier about the outcome was if it were played in Hawaii or San Diego. However on the women's side, the dominance of Canada & USA again has angered the powers that be of the IOC & they have made ridiculous threats on the women's side of the sport to become more competitive or lose their spot.... despite the mens tournament being FAR more lopsided in its infancy.
Canada, USA, Finland was the gold, silver & bronze medal finshers in both tournies. That is the first time the same result for medals happened on both sides of the tournament.
The year 2011 is already a couple weeks old now & stories may already be developing that in fact opening day of the year could have seen 2 top 10 stories in the same game when Alex Ovechkin did a faceplant trying to take a shot on the soggy, possibly unsafe conditions of Heinz Field for the Winter Classic, and the possibility the games biggest marketing tool could have been knocked out of the line up for awhile in the same game as Sidney Crosby took a serious hit that has sidelined him for a few games since then.
The rosters for the Canada & U.S.A. womens hockey teams have been announced.
While the majority of the rosters were locked in months ago, there were still spots up for grabs & a couple changes were found in the end from what maybe was expected by some.
Canada being most notable.
For one, I was a bit surprised Gillian Ferrari was passed over on Team Canada. I guess they just felt more like the younger Catherine Ward brought more. I was a bit shocked by it, but really, all of them deserved to be there & someone had to be left off. Unfortunately for Gillian, she was the one.
Team Canada obviously brings in a glut of international experience & many returnees from the Gold winning 2006 squad. Fourteen returnees gives this team a wealth of experience & knowledge of what it takes to win Olympic gold. Canada has had less luck at the World championships of late, not having won since 2007, their longest ever drought without a major championship.
The team will of course look to the legendary Hayley Wickenheiser to contribute offensively & to use her physical dominance to create chances for other skilled forwards like Meghan Agosta, Jennifer Botterill & newcomers to the Olympics Rebecca Johnston & Haley Irwin. Jayna Hefford seems to still have an offensive touch as well, same goes for Caroline Ouellette. Marie Philip Poulin, Sarah Vaillancourt, Gillian Apps, Cherie Piper & Gina Kingsbury round out a very lethal & offensively packed forward roster that can likely score on any line combination.
Defense is also offensively packed as well with Carla MacLeod, Catherine Ward & Meaghan Mikkelson on the squad. Colleen Sostorics, Tessa Bonhomme & Becky Kellar will round out the squad
In goal, the job is a toss up between Shannon Szabados & Kim St Pierre. In the 4 nations tourney, Szabados was the number 1, while the summer tournament saw St Pierre as the starter. last WHC, probable 3rd string, Charline Labonte was the starter. Confused yet?
Expect Szabados to get a couple stars & St Pierre to get a couple before they settle on the medal round goalie.
Team USA had a similar set roster. In fact, only 1 girl who came to Vancouver in August for the Hockey Canada Cup was left off the roster, Rachel Drazan.
The forward squad is also an offense filled powerhouse. Natalie Darwitz, Julie Chu & Hilary Knight combined for 29 pts in 5 GP last WHC. Darwitz & Knight have carried that momentum into this year, while Chu has cooled a little, but is still a source of offense. Not to be outdone are the Lamoreaux sisters, Jocelyne & Monique. The team will fill the roster with a variety of other capable players like Erika Lawler, Jinelle Zaugg-Siergiej, Karen Thatcher, Kelli Stack, Gigi Marvin, Meghan Duggan & now 4 time Olympian Jenny Potter.
On defense this team has as many returnees as the forwards do from the 2006 team. 4 time Olympian & American womens poster child hockey star Angela Ruggiero leads a squad that also includes former Olympians Caitlin Cahow & Molly Engstrom. Newcomers Kacey Bellamy, Lisa Chesson & Kerry Weiland fill out the line up.
In goal, Jessie Vetter is the probable starter. Molly Schaus is just as capable & could take the job away. Brianne McLaughlin is most likely going to see most of this tourney from the press box.
But what can be expected outside of Canada & the U.S.? Sweden & Finland will of course be there looking to upset & steal a silver again. They are quite capable of the feat too. Between the two countries, usually one or the other manages to come away with an upset win against the more elite teams in recent years. So who do they bring? As well, what about the other nations involved?
Here is a quick look at some of the expected names to look for from the other countries.
Goalie Kim Martin will be unquestionably their starter. Even after a recent injury, she is still the probable starter. The back up spots seem to be set with Sara Grahn as the back up, while Valentina Lizana is seeming to be the uncontested #3, since she appeared in both the HCC & 4 Nations Cup in that role, as well as the starter in the 2009 WHC while Martin was out.
On Defense, Gunilla Andersson, Jenni Asserholt & Frida Nevalainen are locks. I suspect the other spots will be filled by Johanna Fallman, Emma Nordin & Emma Eliasson. The last spot probably will go to either Katarina Timglas, a forward in the last Olympics or Annie Svedin? Offensively Andersson & Nevalainen will carry this defense core, while Asserholt will generally be expected to be their most mnotable defender.
Forwards will be a lot of the regular suspects for this team. Elin Holmlov, Maria Rooth, Danijela Rundqvist and Erika Holst will likely carry most of the scoring. Pernilla Winberg & Tina Enstrom will round out the secondary scoring. The roster will more than likely fill out with Cecilia Ostberg, Isabelle Jordansson, Erica Uden Johansson, Klara Myren, Erika Grahm and Frida Svedin Thunstrom. With the exception of Timglas who was a forward during that tourney & now seems to be a defender.
This is the same line up that they went with in the 2009 WHC where they finished 4th without Kim Martin in goal. A bronze is very real possibility, a silver is a slight possibility with this line up.
Goaltender Noora Raty will be the expected starter in Vancouver, as she was when she was here in the summer tournament that saw her help them steal a win from the U.S. team. The back up spot seems to be handed to Maija Hassinen if the 4 Nations Cup means much, in Vancouver that role went to Mira Kuisma, she probably is a lock for the 3rd spot.
Defense is going to be made up of pretty much their 4 Nations Cup roster. That includes Saija Sirvio, Marija Posa, Rosa Lindstedt, Emma Laaksonen, Jenni Kiirikoski, Mira Jalosuo & Terhi Mertanen. Most of these were on the 3rd place team from last WHC. Only Lindstedt wasnt. They arent as offensively gifted as the Swedish defenders, but they are a bigger squad physically on average & should be tougher to play against.
Forwards, most of the scoring pressure will fall on Michelle Karvinen & Saara Tuominen. They will need other offensively skilled players like Mari Pehkonen, Karolina Rantamaki & Nina Tikkinen to bring their A games as well to do well in this tourney. The rest of the roster will probably be filled out with Marjo Voutilainen, Annini Rajahuhta, Minnimari Tuominen, Emmi Leinonen, Venla Heikkila, and perhaps Tanja Niksanen or Mia Sakstrom.
Finland had a huge mental boost with a win over the USA in Vancouver this summer, a 3rd last WHC. They may have had a set back with a 4th place showing at home in the last tourney before the Olympics, the 4 Nations Cup however. Medal possibility is there, but probably only a bronze.
Some notables from the rest....
Switzerland 5th in the world. They have improved their world rankings from 9th just 5 years ago.
Dominique Slongo had a terrific tourney for them in the 2009 WHC & probably is the starting goalie for the Olympics.
Christine Meier, Darcia Leimgruber & Kathrin Lehmann lead them offensively in the last WHC & are probably expected to do so again here.
Nicola Bullo & Johanna Gautier seem like safe bets for the defense core.
Russia 6th in the world, won a bronze medal back in 2001 at the WHC. Since then, no such repeat performance.
in goal its probably Irina Gashennikova, the goalie with the most minutes played in the 09 WHC. Maybe Nadezda Alexandrova gets the spot? They more or less split the duties there, but Gashennikova had the more time played & better stats.
Offensively, it falls on the shoulders of Ekaterina Smolentseva who had a 2 pt per game avg last WHC. Tatiana Burina was the only other multi goal scorer on the roster. Ilya Gavrilova and Tatiana Sotnikova probably are also safe bets to make the team.
On defense, Inna Dyubanok was a team best +3 & had a goal for them last year. Probably a safe bet to be there again. Anna Shchukina & Olga Permyakova also likely make the squad & are known to shoot the puck a fair bit. Angelina Goncharenko is probably there as well.
China 7th in the world has consistently been just good enough to make the major tournies, but not good enough to make any inroads.
Goalie last WHC was Yao Shi. No reason to believe she wont be again.
Defense Na Jiang & Xutiang Qi should most likely make the squad.
Offensively, Rui Sun had 5 of the teams 7 goals & more points than the rest of the roster combined. Its pretty much up to her to carry the load offensively.
Slovakia the 15th ranked country in the world somehow is in the Olympics. Japan, Germany & Kazakhstan must be livid.
I had to dig hard to find stats for this team. But after I did, I basically have come up with these names as the probable names to watch for them.
Zuzana Tomcikova was the starter in their last major tourney. Played every minute. I assume she is still the starter.
Petra Jurcova, Petra Pravlikova & Martina Velickova seem to be the teams offensive weapons.
Iveta Karafiatova seems like the teams top offensive defender.
That is, in a nutshell what you might expect from the teams in the 2010 Womens Olympic hockey tournament coming to Vancouver.