One of the best goalies in Womens Hockey - Noora Räty may end up retiring from Hockey at 24 years of age - because she cant find a competitive & paying league to play in.
Imagine right now Carey Price, or Tuukka Rask quitting hockey right now because they could not find a team to play for in a league they felt was at their skill level. Absurd right? I mean if they were for some reason unable to play in the NHL, they would have the KHL as a viable back up. Rask could surely go home & play in Finland & be a star there. They have options. Lets also take into consideration, neither of them are even in the top 5 goalies in the game right now at 26 years of age.
This brings me to Noora Raty. For those who dont follow women's hockey outside of the Canada/USA battles, Raty has been for a few years now 1 of, if not at times, the best goalie in the world in women's hockey. She has backstopped Finland to wins over the U.S. in the World Championships, Four Nations Cup last year & the Hockey Canada Cup here in 2010. A feat that is few & far between for teams not from Canada.
Raty carried her college, University Of Minnesota to back-to-back NCAA championships. With a career mark of 114-17-8, including a 38-0-0 mark in her final year with 17 Shutouts. She holds the record for career shutouts & single season shutouts in women''s college hockey. As a teenager she won the Best Goalie honours at the Women's World Hockey Championships, twice. In 2008 she was given the MVP of the entire tourney. Noora Raty was the best goalie in the world, and she wasnt even out of her teens yet.
Winning an Olympic Bronze medal in 2010 will be the highlight of her international career. Her two NCAA titles will be the only major championships she will likely ever win in the sport. The reason is, Noora Raty, at just 24 years of age, will likely retire.
Early retirement isnt rare in women's hockey. Some do it due to injuries, others do it to start up families. But rarely has there been someone in the women's game, still near the peak of her career retiring because she cant find somewhere to play that still wants to. This is a situation unique to Raty right now, but not unique to the women's hockey players as a whole.
Despite the feverish crowds that Canada-USA women's games get on both sides of the border, there is no professional women's league. The only pro women's hockey league currently of note is in Russia, and Raty herself has stated, it isnt "the best". North America has a women's league. The CWHL, but it isnt pro. Players travel expenses and equipment are paid for, but they do not pay the players to play. Players are expected to carry on with real every day jobs, and play a sport they love, for essentially free. This is the top level of competition in North America right now for women's hockey, a free league that doesnt travel outside the eastern time zone.
Raty stated in a very public statement on twitter that she needs a league that can challenge her (CWHL could do that) and pay her (the Russian league can do that) but finding 1 that does both is not an option at this time. Noora could play mens hockey. An option she likely has considered. Perhaps she still will. But what about all the others? What about Raty proving herself against other women's players? Growing the game? This seems to be something Noora seems eager to do. She wants to be paid AND play against women.
Noora Raty's very public plea yesterday on twitter might not help a league form in time for her career, but hopefully it will be instrumental in getting things in motion for such a league very soon. Hopefully one that can pay players, and more importantly expland beyond an area so small you can drive from the furthest 2 points of the league in a few hours.
Women have a professional basketball league, backed by the NBA. Its in its 17th season coming up, has 12 teams. With a minimum salary of $35,000 a season.
Women have a professional soccer league. The NWSL and while it pays very little comparatively, it does at least PAY its players. Minimum $6,000 a season. But there are also professional leagues in Europe for them to go to that pay much, much better.
So why is there no professional hockey league for women in North America? I'm not saying it has to pay WNBA level salaries just yet, but it could, if it had the right marketing behind it.
Cue the NHL. Like the NBA's involvement in women's basketball, the NHL could vastly boost the image, and viability of a women's league. Association with regional teams would bring recognition and would almost instantly boost the sport. It would also allow payment for services. The NHL is a multi-billion dollar juggernaut in sports, yet, no involvement in trying to develop a women's league or game. They have no problem tossing money at markets that failed from the get go, and trying to sway fans over seas with tours there that include actual regular season games. Lots of money to waste on those ventures. But women's hockey? Nope. Despite the NHL using women's hockey stories to get a few more eyeballs on broadcasts, puck dropping ceremonies & traffic to their website. That, they can do. They have no problem USING women's hockey moments & players to promote hockey, just dont put any actual money into it.
Somewhere today in Sochi, Russia Tuukka Rask is probably going to have a meal that he didnt have to pay for, and will be indifferent to the experience or even annoyed that its not what he would usually have. Noora Raty might very well have that same meal, and just be glad she didnt have to pay for it, with the $0 she earns doing the same job, and so far, more successfully in less years on this planet. Tuukka Rask will get $7M U.S. this season. He is 1 of the top 20 goalies in the NHL, MAYBE even top 10. He will make $7M because a team felt having 1 of the top 20 at his position is worth that. Noora Raty is 1 of the top 5 in the world for women, even arguably, the best. Yet no one is paying her, despite the fact shes done more in her career than Tuukka (never played a second in the playoffs in the 2011 Cup year) who still has no major accomplishments in his career outside of a bronze at the World Juniors. Noora is also 2 years younger than him. Peter Budaj, the 3rd string goalie for Slovakia this tourney is making $1.4M as a back up for the Montreal Canadiens, the same team that employs Carey Price at $6.5M.
Surely, there can be a league, that values Noora Raty enough that she can make at least 10% of what the 3rd string Slovakian goalie in the Olympic mens tournament currently makes. But, I also thought there should be a professional women's hockey league as well. Maybe there will be. Maybe the NHL, with all the hair brained schemes its put together to try & create new revenue streams will finally go "hey, how about a women's hockey league?". They put a team in Phoenix Arizona, and in a swamp in Sunrise, Florida. Surely women's hockey is less of a risk than those zany ideas. Figure it out quick National Hockey League, before 1 of the sports greatest retires, at just 24 years old.
A little side note I found as I was looking to see if there was any last details I missed. Noora finished 63rd on The Hockey News 2013 list of 100 most influential people in hockey..... ahead of 37 mostly NHL based people. Are you listening NHL? There are women players of influence, you just need to open your eyes before its too late.
Heres a few photos of this hockey phenom from the two times I got to see her in Vancouver. During the 2009 Hockey Canada Cup & the 2010 Olympic Bronze Medal game.
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.
The World Hockey Summit started in Toronto Monday. With it came a meeting of many of the greatest minds in the sport, all at one event, talking about ways to innovate & improve the game.
Of course, men's hockey will dominate much of the talk as expected. However, the great minds of the sport will also talk seriously about the women's game. In fact its such a notable topic of discussion at these meetings, that on the summits official website http://www.worldhockeysummit.com/ it was women's hockey & their need for a pro league that is the 1st story shown before the event opened Monday.
Attention to the women's game is high right now. With comments from IOC dinosaur Jacques Rogge back during the Vancouver 2010 Olympics suggesting the women's hockey tournament could be dropped from the games... despite it growing internationally, advocates & critics alike jumped on the words of the IOC boss.
Of course critics were quick to point out how its "always the U.S. & Canada" in the championship games. Sadly, this is the ONLY argument this side of poorly informed, and frankly, outdated neanderthals can really make about the women's game, so they cling onto it desperately like the last lifeboat leaving a sinking ship.
Its true, the women's game has been dominated by the Canadian & American girls. They have won every World Championship, Olympic Championship & major tournament that has had both nations in it since the inaugural World Womens Hockey Championships back in 1990.
Its also true that at this past Olympics, the other countries, most notable Sweden & Finland, the "next two" in women's hockey seemed to take a step backwards in their development. At the 2006 Olympics there was hope on the horizon of the next tier of teams closing the gap after a shocking silver medal performance by Sweden. However since then, the Nordic countries seem to have taken a step backwards again. Sweden even managed to be bumped out of any medal game at the 2008 Worlds when Switzerland upset them and went on to a 4th place finish.
Going into the 2010 games, Finland seemed to be making waves & showed signs of maybe being the contender to put a scare in the mega-powers this time around. they had earned a win over the U.S. in a tournament last summer. Sweden had a win over Canada the year prior. They might seem like baby steps, but this was the largest chinks in the impressive North American armour yet. It looked like the Nordic countries were going to be some type of threat at the Olympic games.
Instead of a closing of the gap, the gap seemed to be widened to levels not seen in a few years. With a 13-1 win over Sweden & a 5-0 win over Finland, Canada had run the European contenders right out of the buildings by a combined 18-1 total. USA had a similar romp of them, beating Sweden 9-1 and Finland 6-0 for a total of 15-1. The North Americans had beat the top 2 Euro teams 33-2 All the anti-women's hockey crowd agreed, women's hockey should go.
On the other side of the coin, the advocates of the game. The level headed group that realizes great strides had been made...and whom had some pretty strong defense of the women's game, when compared to the feeble beginnings of the mens game. You see, the men were themselves, a little lopsided in those early years...infact, they were even worse.
In the 1st Olympics in 1920. Canada won gold by a combined score of 29-1 in 3 games. USA was second with a combined score of 52-2 (including a 16-0 win over Czechoslovakia in the silver medal game). Canada won games of 15-0 over Czechoslovakia & 12-1 over Sweden in that tournament. USA had similar domination with a 7-0 win over the Swedes, and 16-0 over the Czechs. Not to mention a 29-0 win over Switzerland. A country that would win 2 bronze medals in the first 6 Olympics. Two countries that now, are considered medal contenders every games, Sweden & Czech Republic, have won the last three Olympic gold medals that werent put around the necks of Canadian players. Imagine if Jacques Rogge was IOC bigwig in 1920. Hockey might have been scrapped. The development of the game in the now Czech Republic, Sweden, as well as Slovakia, Finland, Russia, Switzerland and many other countries might never have taken off...at the very least, it would have been stunted considerably.
By 1924 it wasnt even a challenge anymore. Canada would go to Gold again, this time with an insane goals for-against total of 85-0 in the group A round. Wins of 22-0 over Sweden, 30-0 over Czechoslovakia and 33-0 over Switzerland would surely have made Mr. Rogges blood boil if he were in charge. The U.S. only managed a 52-0 group b score. In there was a saddening 11-0 win over Great Britain, the team who would go on to win the bronze. The 4th place team in the tourney, Sweden, lost by scores of 20-0 and 22-0 in the medal round to Canada & the U.S. The gold medal Canadians had a goal for-against tally of 132-3 in the entire event. I mean really, why even have the games? Its clear these other countries will never level the playing field. USA is so strong, and Canada is even stronger. Clearly no one will stop them for many years.
That being said, in the 3rd Olympics. Canada ONLY won by a total of 38-0 in 3 games to take the gold. Sweden managed to keep the route to only 11-0 this time.
The 4th tournament, with only 4 teams, including 2 that had never medaled in a games prior, had fairly competitive games. Only Poland, who finished 4th lost a game by double digits, and only once did it happen, to Canada 10-0.
By the time the 5th Olympics rolled around. Teams were finally starting to catch up. Canada won their group a round easily, but with only a 24-3 score it was clear the lesser teams were now defending them better & had improved their scoring some. USA had it even tougher, finishing 2nd in their group to Germany, with only a 5-2 Goal for against total. It was in this tournament that Canada would lose its first ever game...and it wasnt to the Americans as you might have thought. Great Britain would beat Canada, not once, but TWICE. Sending Canada to a silver medal for its first time ever, the Americans went home with the bronze.
Not once was the idea of killing mens hockey at the Olympics considered back then. They were given time to develop the game & let competition between elite & poorer countries continue as one of the ways to improve & promote the game to the struggling nations that were still just learning the sport. There are now ranked countries by the IIHF in Mexico (32), Australia (34), South Africa (42), Mongolia (46) & United Arab Emirates (47) in mens hockey. Would ANY of these countries be playing, and recognized by the IIHF without the game being on the Olympic stage for all these years?? I doubt it.
This year, the women's game should have been celebrating all its accomplished. They had an Olympic year. The CWHL, 1 of 2 major women's hockey leagues based in Canada (along with the WWHL out west) had the first ever draft in a womens major league, and to top it off Angela James & Cammi Granato will be inducted into the Hockey Hall Of Fame this fall. Marking the first time women have been inducted to the HHOF as players.
Yet all the narrow-minded, sexist, money grubbing & greed based IOC can think of is, getting rid of an event because of a current competition disparity. In beach volleyball, the U.S. and Brazil have 7 golds, 5 silvers and 3 bronze between them in the 8 total events that have ever been played in that sport at the Olympics. No crying for it to be pulled. Yet it seems pretty clear, they are more than dominant in the sport. I guess its more acceptable to allow a sport to stay when 1 of the countries benefiting is a country that is somewhat of a 3rd world country. I guess it also helps when the girls in that sport take to the court in bikinis. Suddenly, competitive imbalance can be overlooked.
Hey IOC, if you want a more competitive women's tournament, I have a novel idea you will not be fans of...but it will likely work. Invest some of that obscene wealth that WE, the paying public helped line your organization with into the sport. Go to the next tier of countries & put money into their programs, make it a viable option for coaches & trainers to work in outside of Canada & the U.S.A. Stop putting all the onus on the athletes & teams to figure the problem out. Take some of the responsibility on yourselves. If you want Finland or Sweden to have a legitimate shot at standing ontop of the podium in 4 or 8 years, make their programs more stable. Give Switzerland, Slovakia, Russia and other countries a boost.
The blame doesnt go solely on the IOC's shoulders though. They get the brunt, because they made the idiotic statement. But they arent alone in this.
The IIHF does little to boost the other countries programs either. Sure, they help some, and legitimately, they probably are the largest contributors. But at the end of the day Canada & the U.S. are still probably getting more financial & resource help than the other countries. right? Right. Its also unbelievable how much the IIHF puts into mens hockey, a sport that runs off the efforts of multi-millionaire athletes compared to women's hockey, a sport run off the efforts of people who work non-hockey related jobs to pay the bills. I realize the men make you more money at the end of the day...but, they are also going to miss it the least. So take some of their earning power & invest it where its needed....in the women's game. I doubt at the end of the day Martin Brodeur, Sidney Crosby, Alex Ovechkin or Ryan Kesler will be crying if they learned you took 25-50% of the income made off the mens tourneys and invested it into the women's game. The IIHF isnt going to go broke by taking some of its resources and putting it into an entire gender inside the sport. What are you afraid of IIHF? People might like the sport & it will start to chip into the mens popularity?? Dont worry, mens hockey will certainly always be king...at least for my lifetime. But instead, you could have TWO marketable, highly profitable products, instead of 1. All it takes, is some time, some effort, and some of that mountain of money you are sitting on.
Team Canada & Team USA. You both are funded by very well to do organizations. NEITHER OF YOU is going broke anytime soon. How about giving your competition a boost to get going?? Or are you afraid of competition? I get it, winning is better, its all that matters blah blah blah. I get that. I was a competitive athlete at one time, and I certainly didnt like losing. But at the end of the day, whats the sense of being the best at something if no one else cares??? Do you really want to be proud of being the best? Well, make better competitors. Give yourself legitimate, steady competition. If you give other countries help, sure, the pocketbook is thinner on your end...but lets be honest, what really are you in danger of losing financially?? So you might not be able to hire a 4th media relations consultant. Oh boo hoo. You already have too many suits roaming around the team with no necessary purpose already.
The NHL. All we hear of is how business is on the up & up since you royally raped your entire fanbase 6 years ago. There is the legitimate chance another lockout will happen soon. Its possible there may be another year without hockey because your egos cant be put aside. Heres an idea, that works on 2 levels. Invest in the women's league(s). The NBA has deep fingers into the WNBA, why cant the NHL act the same way? It is another way to market your game too. Dont be shocked to hear there NHL PR department, but some people are still mad at you and arent going to your games, despite still going to hockey games in other leagues. You want to win some over... start being notable contributors to those leagues...and the women's league is a good place to start. Get some NHL owners on board as owners in the league, and cross-promote. Who knows, when the big boys have a temper tantrum next lock out because you wont allow 45 year long contracts and are willing to sit for an entire season again, the ladies might be able to fill that gap for the fans... and you, the NHL, could get some financial kickback from the upswing in the attendance.
Other countries hockey federations, you are disappointing. Sure, you are not as rich as Canada and the U.S. We get it, funds are limited. But that doesnt mean you cant make stronger women's teams still.... hell, in some of the cases where your mens team is soft & the womens team isnt, maybe its time to put your efforts heavier into the women's program. Countries like Finland, Sweden, Russia, Switzerland and China had the same or better rankings at the Olympics with their women's teams than their mens...why not reward them for doing better by raising the level of support?? In fact, only Slovakia in the women's tourney had a lower rank than on the mens side...and considering Slovakia came into the Olympics ranked 15th in the IIHF women's rankings, I would say they performed quite well. Kazhakstan and Japan are both ranked in the top 10 in women's hockey, and are far away after thoughts in mens hockey...why not build those programs over your mens teams?? Great Britain 18th in women's, 23rd in mens. Your mens program IS NOT making an Olympics anytime soon...but the women's team..maybe with more focus on them, they could make it 2 Olympics from now. I have seen websites for teams in Britain in women's leagues...theres obviously an interest in the sport there, GROW IT!.
NHL players. Yes, that group of millionaire hockey players who so often talk in interviews of the love they have of the game still and how great they thought it all was growing up playing for free. Guess what, the women still do play for practically free. If even 2 players from each countries team invested even 2% of their contract annually to their opposite sexes teams programs, that would help considerably. I suspect at the end of the day the Finnish Women's team could find a good use for a few bucks from the likes of Teemu Selanne, Olli Jokinen or Sami Salo, each of whom hasnt made less than a million bucks in a season since the lockout. Do the NHL Swedes really think their female counterparts would object if Daniel Alfredsson, Nicklas Lidstrom or Henrik Lundqvist put some of the ridiculous fortunes they are sitting on, into their program to help strengthen it? I know its absurd to expect Jaromir Jagr to do anything that doesnt immediately benefit him, but maybe Tomas Kaberle or Dominik Hasek could help boost the Czech women's program, as well Mark Streit could give the Swiss women's team a boost, while maybe Marian gaborik or Marian Hossa could use some of their obscene wealth to help the Slovakian girls improve on their monumental 8th place showing last Olympics. Hockey players are supposedly the nice guys, the charitable types... yet at the end of the day, how much help do they give to the women's game? Dozens of current & former NHLers have sisters, daughters and wives who did or are playing the sport competitively. How hard is it to stand up & be proud of your family & put your money behind them??
The media also has a role in this. I so often see a story on women's hockey make a publication, and they never follow it up. Its a 1 off. Only time it makes the scoresheet in the paper or on TV is at the Olympics, or here in Canada, a World championship/4 Nations Cup maybe. We arent expecting you to know every women's player, from superstar to 4th liners over night. We are just asking, you pay attention and give it as much attention as other leagues you talk about in far more depth. The AHL and CHL teams get considerable attention by their local media outlets and even national broadcasters. The women's leagues however... rarely see the light of day in the papers, and even less often on the national broadcasters. Why? Some will say its because those mens leagues are more popular...and perhaps thats so..but thats also years of experience & marketing that give them that boost in that area. When Roller Hockey first got its own major league, it got play in all the local papers, it was always in the scoresheets, and it was covered well in The Hockey News. Where is/was that same respect for the NWHL, WWHL or CWHL over the years?? Time to stop acting like an old boys club & start expanding your wheelhouse of leagues you cover to include the women's game.
This last Olympics, Canada won Gold in both mens & women's hockey. USA was silver in both. Finland was bronze in both. I dare anyone to go up to the likes of Hayley Wickenheiser, Angela Ruggeiro or Noora Raty and tell them the medals they earned werent that impressive because the competition isnt there. I talked to some of the girls after the tourney, and there was a common statement on why the girls, on both the winning, and losing sides, thought the skill level between USA & Canada seemed to suddenly surge ahead again after the Nordic countries being so close just several months earlier... TIME. The Swedes & Finns didnt have the same amount of time together, as the Canadians and Americans did. They certainly didnt have the funding to hold the in depth camps those two countries did...and it showed at the end. Its entirely possible that Canada and the U.S. won the Gold & Silver medals solely because of money & having the time to gel as 1 group. Why cant Finland, Sweden, Switzerland and other countries get that same oppourtunity?? Because groups like the IOC, IIHF, NHL, NHL Players & their countries organizations arent willing to help even a playing field that is clearly tilted.
I am trying to wrap my head around when the IOC turned from an organization who was there to help promote & grow sports, to an organization who only cares about whether something is popular or if several countries already have well developed teams? Its absurd to think that they would drop women's hockey from the Winter Olympics, considering how thin those games are on events... but, this is the same committee who axed softball & baseball recently from the summer games.... so suddenly, the lunacy of dropping a marquee winter event doesnt seem so crazy with them.
I doubt my logical rant will make too many waves and be the catalyst for making the women's game grow quickly overnight. I dont think its going to be read aloud at the summit obviously.. I mean for one, I take too many shots at too many people. Odds are everyone there falls into 1 of the groups I just criticized. I will probably find myself here a year or more from now angrily stating the same things again. Afterall, I have said them before without anyone listening. I am hopeful someone will be at the summit, who has a thought maybe something close to mine, that will get to voice that thought to the panel. Maybe that thought will even snowball into an idea that will eventually start helping make changes to the women's game. I am hopeful, but I wont hold my breath. Because everytime I think the game is about to take large steps forward, it doesnt. Its so often just on the cusp, but it doesnt get that big push over that it needs. Maybe things will be different this time though. It is after all a big step to at least be a topic at the summit this time.
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.
Canadagraphs Hockey Blogs
From time to time I have something to say on hockey. Whether its the Vancouver Canucks, NHL in general, Womens Hockey or International Hockey...if I have something to post, it will be in here.