This past week the first notable hockey tournament of the season took place.
The 2009 Womens Hockey Canada Cup was played to sparse crowds generally ranging in the few hundreds to mid-thousands at the 18000 seat GM Place in Vancouver, BC, Canada. Why it was moved there from the more reasonable 7200 seat UBC Thunderbird arena that it was originally scheduled to be at for all the games but the medal games, is still beyond me.
This tournament is a warm up of course for the 4 most notable nations in Womens hockey as they tune up for the upcoming 2010 Winter Olympic games to be held in the same city. Canada, Finland, Sweden & U.S.A. This is of course to some not familiar with the sport in recent years, a bit of a shock, as it was not that long ago that it was thought to be "Canada & the U.S......and those other countries" who would compete in tourneys. But with Sweden winning the Silver last Olympics & on average about 1 win from either the Swedes or Finns over the Americans or Canadians in recent major tournies, its now a fact that there are 4 true nations competing in most tournaments.
The results of the round robin portion of the tournament would confuse anyone who looks at it with a logical view. Sweden managed to beat Finland. But Finland managed to beat the U.S. The U.S. managed to beat Canada....but Canada was the top team in the tournament after the round robins? In theory, you could say anyone could beat anyone by seeing those results. But there was a clear skill level difference between the U.S. & Canada, compared to the two Nordic competitors. But a win is still a win & Finlands defeat of the U.S. will go far in their confidence getting boosted for the upcoming 4 Nations Cup on their home soil this fall & of course the 2010 games.
On the other end, Canada has to be wondering if this is a minor slump or a cause for concern as the U.S. beat them in their round robin game and the Gold medal game. The two power house teams of the tourney will again have the pressure of being in the Gold medal finals in Vancouver in February on their shoulders. Right now, the U.S. is looking like the stronger club. They have won 2 consecutive World Championships, and 3 of the last 4. If not for a stunning performance by Swedish goaltender Kim Martin, maybe the U.S. could have won the gold in the 2006 Olympics as well?
This is of course a tester tournament for the teams. See who is on the rise, who is maybe losing a step. Only Canada has more than 1/2 of their roster from the last Olympics still competing in this tournament. The U.S.A. squad of bronze medallists in 2006 only have 6 members on the team that was here in Vancouver. Sweden has even amde sizable changes from their silver medal team of 2006. Only 9 of those silver medal winning Swedes are still there. Canada however seems to have the "if it aint broke, dont fix it" approach. With 15 members still here, perhaps you start to wonder if they need a change? Surely the players they won with last time are still great players. But you wonder, had they had to face the U.S. in 2006, would they have lost? Had they lost, would THEY be the team with only 6 returning members? having lost 2 consecutive Worlds, you would think maybe they would implement some fresh blood into this tourney & see what they bring. But they seemingly have not done that.
Of the entire Canadian roster, there was a mere two names I was not familiar with. Usually theres 5-7 or so. Marie-Philip Poulin & Jennifer Wakefield were the only members I was not overly familiar with. Compared to the U.S. team which had about 6, its clear Canada is going to try & win again with the roster that got them there 4 years ago. Four years is a long time in an athletes life.
The U.S.A team managed to win Gold again, defeating the Canadians 2-1 in the Gold medal final on Sunday. A Natalie Darwitz Power Play goal in the 3rd period was the deciding factor. But Canada had the edge in shots. Strong goaltending by Jessie Vetter, especially in the 1st when Canada had 20 shots on goal helped to preserve the victory. All 3 goals in the game came on power plays. A goal by the U.S. team on the pp in the first from Monique Lamoureux (assisted by her twin sister Jocelyne) got them up early. Canada answered back in the lastminute on the PP with a Meghan Agosta goal. The 2nd period was also even, but this time there was no scoring. Then Natalie Darwitz broke the time at the 1:18 mark of the 3rd while Canadian icon Hayley Wickenheiser sat in the penalty box on a slashing call. As the busser sounded, thousands of disappointed Canadian fans dragged their feet to the exists, while the modest crowd of mostly family & friends of the U.S. players hung around for the medal ceremonies, along with some of the Canadian fans.
Earlier in the day. Finland defeated Sweden 1-0 for the Bronze medal. Jenni Hiirikoski got the only goal of the game in the 2nd period, as Noora Raty got the shutout. Swedish star Kim Martin made 39 saves in the loss.
The tournaments top point getter was Hayley Wickenheiser with 8
The tournaments top goal scorer was Rebecca Johnston with 5
The tournaments top assist getter was Haley Irwin with 5
The tournaments top Goals Against Avg was Molly Schaus 1.00
The tournaments top Save Percentage was Jessie Vetter .974
Next up for these teams is the Four Nations Cup in Finland this November.
A more detailed blog on the teams & stats will come soon.
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