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 undisputed #1 goalie for the Team Finland Womens hockey squad at the 2010 Olympic games in Vancouver. Noora Raty has a lot of pressure on her. She seems up to the challenge.
No stranger to North American hockey, Noora is honing her skills at the University of Minnesota in between starts for the Finnish womens team. Already a veteran of 5 years of National team experience, Noora is not a stranger to Olympic play either. At only 16 yrs of age she started for Finland in the 2006 Olympics helping the Finns to a 4th place finish.
With 2 World Championship Bronze medals, and with multiple wins over the #1 IIHF ranked Team U.S.A. in tournament games, Raty has no lack of confidence going into the 2010 games. Named the tournaments best goalie in 2007 & 2008, Raty could be arguably the best goalie in women's hockey, certainly without question the best goalie in Finnish womens hockey.
If Finland is going to get back to the podium in Vancouver after narrowly missing it the last 2 Olympics, Noora Raty will have a lot to say in that happening.
If Finland is going to have any hopes of a medal, they need some offense. Their top hope is Michelle Karvinen.
Of the big 4 nations, Finland is the one that finds itself most offensively challenged on most nights, but they do still have scoring talent. Saara Tuominen, Karolina Rantamaki & Michelle Karvinen making up the majority of that scoring.
Karvinen, a 19 year old Danish born Finnish winger, who spends her time playing for the Espoo Blues in the Finnish Womens league when she is not competing for Finland in international tournaments has already chalked up some decent stats in her hockey career. She was the leagues top point scorer in the playoffs 2 seasons ago, the same year she was picked as Rookie Of The Year. She has lead or tied Finland in tournament points in practically every tournament she has competed in. She was in the top 10 in scoring at the last 4 Nations Cup in her home country of Finland, as well as in the top 10 last World Championships.
In Vancouver, the Finns will be looking to generally muck out low scoring, tight checking affairs. They will rely heavily on their offensively talented players to step up their game as much as they can. Not even 20 years old yet, Karvinen is already one of the teams top producers, her upside is still growing, the Finns might have a legitimate gamebreaker in Karvinen.
Finland has their eyes on a medal, and hopes of knocking off one of the two super powers perhaps along the way. If Michelle Karvinen is at her best, Finland might be able to do that.
You can follow her on twitter at http://twitter.com/M3Karvinen
If Sweden plans on repeating as silver medalists, Maria Rooth will be part of that. As a two time Olympic medalist. She is one of Swedens most experienced International players.
Already a silver & bronze medalist at the Olympics, Rooth will be aiming to try & help Sweden get somewhere they never have been in a tournament featuring the U.S. & Canada, the top.
A former star member of NCAA hockey power University of Minnesota-Duluth, Rooth now showcases her skills for a womens team IN Sweden AIK Solna, where several other Swedish Olympians play. They have helped the club team become a powerful force over there, winning last seasons Swedish womens championship, as well as having 3 straight European championships. Much of this success is because of Rooth.
In international play Rooth is one of the best. At the 2006 Olympics she was the top scorer outside of Canada in the tournament with 9 points in 5 games. This helped her make the tournament all-star team.
In Vancouver Sweden will be expecting a medal, and will be hoping to become the first country outside of North America to win a gold. The odds are slim of such a feat, but the same odds were placed on them in 2006 of finishing 2nd. Which they did, thanks in part to Maria Rooth.
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.
If womens hockey is looking to showcase the game & get the attention of the men, maybe Sweden can play Valentina Lizana a bit more?
Sweden at the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver will rely on Kim Martin to carry the load. Understandably, she is clearly one of the top goalies in womens hockey, if not the best. But the Swedes have another pretty decent goalie in Valentina backing up. With a resume that sports multiple European Womens championships, Swedish womens league championships & over 30 National team games, including 4 shutouts, Lizana has a pretty nice resume of her own...and shes still only 19.
What garners her more attention however is off the ice, her looks. The 5'7 dark brunette beauty looks more like a model than an elite athlete. The sport of womens hockey is always looking to market itself to get into the mainstream, this girl could be the answer for hockey that Anna Kournikova was for tennis. She has the looks, and talent.
Last year, while Kim Martin was recovering from an inury, it was Lizana that backstopped the Swedes. With an impressive .933 SPCT & a 1.25 GAVE, it was certainly cant be blamed on her they limped into a 4th place finish.
I got to see first hand this unknown gem in Vancouver this summer. In the game I watched she played against the powerhouse U.S. team. In the end, the result was an unflattering 7-0 defeat, but her play, especially in the 1st period where it could have easily been a romp already, was nothing short of stellar.
Sweden right now has their saviour Kim Martin. But the future might already be here in Valentina Lizana.
Hard to imagine a 2 time MVP of the World Championships being overlooked often, but this is often the case for Jennifer Botterill.
Playing in the shadows of womens hockey icon, Hayley Wickenheiser, Jennifer Botterill has put together one quite spectacular resume of her own. Going into her 4th Olympics, Jennifer has 2 Gold medals, and a silver. She has 5 World championships. She also has those two World Championship MVP titles.
During her college career at Harvard University, Jennifer won the Patty Kazmaier award as top collegiate womens hockey player. Twice. A feat never done before, or since. She holds the NCAA record for most consecutive games with a point at 80 (scored a point in 106 of her 107 career games), has the NCAA all time record for points with 319, and has an NCAA championship.
She has been a CWHL league scoring champion while playing for her club team, the Mississauga Chiefs. She won the Esso National Championship with that team as well in 2008. She simply wins at every level she plays at.
With all this on her resume, she is often overlooked when people talk about who are the best womens hockey players. Of course, when you play with Hayley Wickenheiser, possibly the greatest womens hockey player of all-time, that tends to happen. But dont be fooled, Botterill is herself, one of the greatest ever.
Team Canada will certainly he aiming for Gold on home soil in Vancouver this February. With talent like Jennifer Botterill on the team, you can see why they have such expectations.
You find out more about Jennifer on her official website http://www.jenniferbotterill.com/
A 3 time World Championship team member, Rebecca Johnston has just in the last year started to come into her own.
Mainly a fringe player in her first couple tournaments with Canada, Johnston stepped into a more notable role last World Championships in Hämeenlinna, Finland last year where she registed 5 points in 5 games. This year, in the Hockey Canada Cup, she repeated that performance, again potting 5 pts in 5 GP.
The 20 year old Cornell University Big Red forward is now one of the up coming offensive pieces Canada is looking at to carry them into the future & right now, she has her chance to show shes up to it. Going into her 1st Olympic games, Johnston is not a stranger to international competition, playing in over 20 tournament games, and many more exhibition games.
She has success everywhere she seems to go. Rebecca is an Ivy league Rookie Of The Year Winner, and a top 10 finalist for the Patty Kazmaier award last season for top Collegiate player in womens hockey. As a multi-sport star, Johnston is no stranger to major athletic competition even before her Team Canada career. She is also a bronze medalist in the 400 Metres at the Canadian Junior Track & Field Championships in 2006 & a Provincial champion in multiple events.
Johnston will be looked upon to contribute for the Canadians this tourney on the scoresheet. If she does, then a gold medal might finally be draped around Rebeccas neck.
Imagine an NHL offensive weapons skill set, in a 5'7 170 lb frame. You might get some idea of what Haley Irwin brings.
Irwin, the 21 yr old offensive dynamo from Thunder Bay, Ontario is entering her first Olympics. In fact, her total experience for Canada at the major national level is limited to just the past couple years, but shes already making an impact. With 5 pts in 5 GP at her very first World Championship, Haley showed she belonged. Which is something Team Canada wasnt so certain about that long ago. Gifted offensively, they werent sure of her other skills.
At the NCAA level, Irwin has been a member of the University of Minnesota-Duluth, coached by Shannon Miller. It was a good fit. Miller knows a little something about getting to the Olympics, as the coach of Team Canada in the 1998 Olympics. Miller worked with Irwin & turned her into a more responsible, well rounded player, and Team Canada eventually came calling.
The teammight still be lead by Wickenheiser, Hefford and Botterill up front, but the next crop is already here. Haley Irwin will be front & centre of that next crop and would love nothing more than to start her Olympic career with a Gold medal in Vancouver.
If Team USA wins Gold in Vancouver during the 2010 Olympics, it will likely be Jessie Vetter in goal for it.
Going into her first Olympics, Vetter is a safe choice to be the goalie of choosing for USA coach Mark Johnson in big games. With 2 World Championships and 3 NCAA championships firmly in her trophy case in just 3 years, Vetter might be the hottest asset in womens hockey right now.
With her former college team, the Wisconsin Badgers, Vetter crushed longstanding NCAA records in the 2006-7 season, that saw her post an unprecidented 0.83 GAVE (first to ever eclipse the 1.00 barrier), a record of 448 mins 32 seconds of consecutive shutout hockey and become the first female goalie to post a shutout in the Frozen Four tourney (which she did twice) and holds the NCAA records for career shutouts at 39. Save percentage at .941 & Wins at 91. This is topped off with being the 2 time NCAA Frozen Four tournament MVP.
A natural athlete, Vetter was also goalie for her high school soccer team that won 3 straight Wisconsin state championships. In the end, with a chance to compete in both at college, she went with hockey. American hockey fans are happy she did.
Team USA will be aiming for Gold in Vancouver in 2010. Its a goal that is within their reach. Soon every American hockey fan will know who Jessie Vetter is. They will know that a gold for Team USA is a very possible goal with Jessie Vetter in net.
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