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 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.
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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.