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.
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.