THN in Sochi: Women’s hockey still has a long way to go

Ken Campbell
Chu and Vetter

Four years ago, then International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge put women’s hockey on what was known in the movie Animal House as “double secret probation.” In reality, Rogge put a warning shot right across the bow of the sport.

“There is a discrepancy, everyone agrees with that,” Rogge said. “We cannot continue without improvement.”

Four years later, there is a new man running the IOC in Thomas Bach, but the reality is that almost nothing has changed in women’s hockey. Bach has apparently already told the powers that be with the national federations that he wants women’s hockey to stay in the Olympics for gender equality. Nothing wrong with that. But if that’s the case, those with a vested interest in the sport owe Bach big-time. Read more

THN in Sochi: Canada vs. USA for gold…again

Ken Campbell
Canadian women

SOCHI – For the fourth time in five Olympics, Canada and USA will meet for a gold medal in women’s hockey, meaning Canadian veterans Hayley Wickenheiser and Jayna Hefford are one win away from the unique distinction of winning gold medals in four separate Olympics.

But they’ll have to overcome a formidable foe in order to do it. The Americans looked utterly dominant in their 6-1 win over Sweden, while Canada had a plethora of opportunities, but struggled a little to find the back of the net in its 3-1 win over Switzerland in the other semifinal. If not for the fine play of Swiss goalie Florence Schelling, plus two goals called back for Canada, this game would have been a blowout.

Natalie Spooner scored two goals for Canada in the victory and Melodie Daoust also scored for Canada. Jessica Lutz replied for Switzerland, touching off a huge celebration on their bench during which the players were literally dancing to the arena music.

The gold medal game is set for Sunday. I’ll have an updated blog and more analysis later.

THN’s Three Stars: Natalie Spooner (Canada); 2. Florence Schelling (Switzerland); 3. Hayley Wickenheiser (Canada).

THN in Sochi: USA romps to gold medal game

Ken Campbell
US women

SOCHI – Half of the party everyone expected at the 2014 Olympics was set when USA breezed through to the gold medal game with an overwhelming 6-1 victory over Sweden in the women’s hockey semifinal.

The result was never, ever in doubt. USA outshot the Swedes 29-1 in the first period and staked itself to a 3-0 lead on goals by Alex Carpenter, Kacey Bellamy and Amanda Kessel. Monique Lamoureux and Megan Bozek added goals in the second period, then USA bascially let up on the gas pedal and cruised the rest of the way. In fact, when Anna Borgqvist of Sweden scored at 13:04 of the third period to break up Jessie Vetter’s shutout bid, it touched off a huge celebration at the Shayba Arena. Another layer of intrigue was added when Swedish goalie Kim Martin-Hasson stopped Jocelyn Lamoureux on a penalty shot at 14:34 of the third.

Brianna Decker scored for USA in the third period.

The win puts USA in the gold medal game against the winner of the Canada-Switzerland semifinal, which goes later today. The Swedes were actually not expected to make the semifinal round, but found themselves in the game thanks to their shocking upset of heavily favored Finland in the quarterfinal.

I’ll have an updated blog and more analysis later.

THN’s Three Stars: 1. Megan Bozek (USA) 2. Brianna Decker (USA) 3. Valentina Wallner (Swe).

Canadian women squeak past American arch-rivals in first Sochi showdown

Adam Proteau
Meghan Agosta-Marciano (MATT SLOCUM/AFP/Getty Images)

The first game between the Canadian and American women’s hockey teams at the 2014 Sochi Olympics demonstrated exactly why these two countries are the lifeblood of the sport. And although Canada escaped with a narrow 3-2 win, there was nothing to suggest either side held a distinct advantage heading toward what many believe is their mutual destiny: appearing in another gold medal final.

Both countries held each other off the scoreboard in a back-and-forth first period that saw the goalies – Canada’s Charline Labonte and the U.S.’s Jessie Vetter – make tremendous saves to keep their team in the game. American superstar forward Hilary Knight put her squad on top late in the second period, but the Canadians found another gear in the final frame: first, Meghan Agosta-Marciano (who was celebrating her 27th birthday) evened the score at 2:21 of the third. Ninety-three seconds later, in what will stick out as a point of controversy, veteran Hayley Wickehneiser scored to give Canada its first lead; Vetter made the initial save on Wickenheiser’s shot, but the puck trickled in behind her milliseconds after it appeared the officials blew their whistle to stop the play. Read more

Women’s Olympic hockey is more competitive, but patience is still required

Adam Proteau
Jayna Hefford (Chuck Myers/MCT)

It’s been only four years since former International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge’s put women’s hockey on notice to increase its competitive parity. But in the games we’ve seen thus far at the current Sochi Winter Games, there’s evidence progress is being made – and that more patience is needed.

On the negative side, the women’s Swiss team was outscored 14-0 in its first two games against the co-favorite Canadian and American squads. But in notable positives, the Finnish team gave Canada a strong test before falling 3-0; and an upstart team from Japan scored its first Olympic goal in 16 years and pushed the Russians to a 1-1 tie late in the third period today before the hosts scored a shorthanded goal and won 2-1. It’s not a giant leap forward to across-the-board parity, but it’s a glimpse of where the sport can grow.

Of course, there’s still a strong likelihood the U.S. and Canada meet in the gold medal final. If and when that happens, there may be people who call out for the IOC to follow through on Rogge’s tough words and take a hard look at removing women’s hockey as an Olympic sport. And if it did, that would be a massive mistake – one that ignores the socioeconomic realities of building this particular women’s sport. Read more

The sad and sorry squad with a GAA of 48.00 and an SP of .526

Brian Costello
BULGARIA

It was in an Olympic qualifying tournament that took place more than four years ago, but it’s a saga worth telling again, especially with such stunning video evidence.

Check out this youtube video of the Bulgarian women’s team that lost 82-0 in a game against Slovakia. It’s unbelievable. In a way, it’s kind of sad the way the Slovaks kept pouring it on in a game that should have allowed a mercy rule. But then again, there must have been players on the Slovak team out to prove themselves worthy. How can you tell them to play half-heartedly? And Slovakia itself is aiming to improve its program in women’s hockey.

Bottom line, Bulgaria had no business being there just yet. The video evidence from Latvia proves that.

Read more

Finnish goalie Noora Raty justifies spot among THN People of Power

Matt Larkin
Raty

My boss Brian Costello said it best: Noora Raty is validating her place on the People of Power List.

Our annual POP Issue is one of my favorites, as it invokes such a strong reaction from readers, not to mention hockey personalities lobbying to make our top 100.

Fair or not, the women who crack the POP list tend to polarize our audience. Some readers believe we don’t include enough and others feel women still don’t influence the sport enough to warrant high rankings. Here’s a look at who cracked our 2013 edition, which was released just before Christmas:

50. Meghan Agosta-Marciano
59. Amanda Kessel
63. Noora Raty

If you don’t know the first two names on the list, you will soon, as Canada’s Agosta-Marciano and USA’s Kessel are the best two scorers in women’s hockey. But Raty, Finland’s goalie? Arguably our gutsiest selection in the 2013 POP edition.

Our reasoning: while gold would almost certainly belong to Canada or the U.S. in Sochi, Raty had the ability to be the tournament’s most influential player. She was the person capable of derailing a juggernaut almost singlehandedly.

Flash forward to today and Raty gave us a taste of her dominance. For two periods, the powerhouse Canadians couldn’t solve her. Canada got to her in the third after 50 minutes and 33 seconds of 0-0 hockey, but Raty still finished with 39 stops on 42 shots for a .929 save percentage. At the other end, Shannon Szabados didn’t break a sweat in a 14-save shutout.

Read more

Could this be last we see of NHL and women’s hockey at Olympics?

Ken Campbell
Crosby and Parise

Philadelphia Flyers chairman Ed Snider has never been reticent about being controversial. Never been reticent about being inane, either. In 1999, when his Flyers lost Game 6 and the first round against the Toronto Maple Leafs on a controversial power-play goal, he eviscerated referee Terry Gregson, saying that the fact he was born near Toronto played a factor. Got nicked for $50,000 for that one.

But when Snider railed against NHLers participating in the Olympics Thursday night, I got the distinct impression this wasn’t simply a case of a rogue owner shaking his fist and ranting against the establishment. If anything, Snider’s words reinforced to me that the NHL is actually greasing the skids to end its involvement in the Olympics once and for all. Read more