Today was MY official start of the Olympics as far as competitions go. Today was the day hockey started playing competitive games. The women took to the ice today for the first ever womens Olympic hockey games to be played in the country that nearly singlehandedly built the sport, Canada.
An early day game between strong medal contender & 2006 Silver medal winners, Sweden & the top ranked country not in the commonly perceived "big 4" (Canada, USA, Sweden & Finland) Switzerland which is the 5th ranked IIHF team, ended with the Swedes winning 3-0 on the back of a Kim Martin shutout. The #3 & #5 ranked teams played a competitive game. Florence Schelling, the goalie for Switzerland kept them close, despite facing more than double the shots of her counterpart Martin. Sweden goals by Danijela Rundqvist (1st goal of the Olympics), Tina Enstrom & Erica Uden Johansson paved the way for the 3-0 victory. Sweden starts off with a respectable 3-0 victory, and Switzerland shows they can be taken seriously. It was a good result for both sides.
In the later game, the Canadian womens team (2 the defending time Olympic Gold medalists) took on the IIHF 15th ranked (only 8 teams in the tournament remember) team from Slovakia. The final score was 18-0. The haters of Womens hockey had lots of fuel for their fire with this result. The argument that womens hockey isnt competitive to have a tournmanet always rings out when Canada faces the bottom seeded teams. A score of 16-0 vs Italy last Olympics had people crying "why bother, its just going to be Canada vs USA as usual, theres no one else.", they claimed its not a fair sport to have an Olympic medal in because no one outside of 2 countries has a chance. Demands to have it taken out of the games were even suggested....of course, the fact that Sweden shocked the world & stole the silver medal was ignored by the "experts" who had openly criticized the sport as being a 2 team competition.
These same critics plead utter ignorance when you point out that mens hockey had the very same (in fact worse) hiccups on its road to respectability. No one talks about the combined 132-3 that Canada won the 1924 Olympic gold medal with. Nor the scores of 33-0 over Switzerland & 30-0 over Czechoslovakia. Canada even beat Sweden 22-0 in that tournament. The silver medalists USA won games by 22-0 & 19-0, ontop of their defeat of Sweden by a score of 20-0 in the medal rounds. EVERY country that lost by these absurd scores, with the exception of Belgium, has won Olympic medals since then, including gold medals for Sweden & the Czech Republic. Would those countries have ever won anything if the same naysayers now existed then whining that it wasnt a fair competition?? Perhaps. But more likely, no. You do infact learn from defeats like that. If for no other reason than to make sure you never lose that bad again, you become better. Eventually, you become competitive, and eventually, you become Olympic champions. I wont suggest Slovakia WILL win a gold medal ever, but they are on the right road to
Since the last Olympics theres been a few mild upsets, Finland beating the U.S. a couple times here & there, including a game just this past summer here in Vancouver at a prep tournament for the Olympics. Sweden beat Canada in a game. Is it LIKELY the U.S.A. & Canada will meet in the finals here in Vancouver? YES, very likely. No one will dispute that in the womens hockey world, not even the Swedes and Finns. They know they will need their A games to topple either of the powerhouses. That being said, history has shown it can happen, and it is happening a little more often now.
Sure, 18-0 is not a fun game to watch if you arent a fan of the team winning. Right now, the Slovak girls probably feel a bit gutted, but that feeling will pass. But they also now know what it takes to be the best. They now have a barometer to gauge their development level on. They have never had that level of competition before. They can now tell the rest of the world that they have played in the Olympics. They can tell the rest of the world they have competed against Olympic champions. Odds are, most of you that will read this will never be able to say that. I am quite positive if you polled the 21 girls on the Slovak team on whether or not they would do it again knowing the outcome, it would be an overwhelming 21-0 vote in favour of taking that chance again. For most or all of them, they might never get to face the greatest womens hockey players again, they may not get to the Olympics again. I'm pretty confident they will take an 18-0 loss to a powerhouse elite defending Olympic champion squad for no other reason than to say "we played the best there is. We might not of won, but we at least got to compete against them. " Its more than a lot of other countries can say at this point.
And isnt that really what the Olympics is about? Experiences?
The goalie for Sweden in Vancouver at the 2010 Olympics will be Kim Martin. Really, can you blame them?
Kim is the goalie who helped the Swedes win a silver medal in 2006 at the Torino Olympics. With a silver & bronze medal on her Olympic resume, she certainly will be looked at by her country to bring them another medal this Olympics.
After a couple years of sluggish play after & even during a knee injury that kept her out for the 2009 Worlds, Martin seems to finally be getting her game back on track. She backstopped her country to a bronze at the last big tournament before the Olympics in the 4 Nations Cup over in Finland.
Often discussed as the "best womens goaltender" by those who follow the sport, Martin is starting to live back up to the hype that followed her before her injury. The hype that started with a 2002 Olympic bronze medal, the hype that snowballed after the world saw her help her team steal a silver in 2006 & lead University of Minnesota-Duluth to the 2008 NCAA championship.
For Kim the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver will probably feel like its own reward after being on the shelp not too long ago. But she wont be happy unless there is a medal around her neck. She likely wont be really happy unless its silver or higher.
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