THN in Sochi: Swiss women craft own Miracle on Ice

Ken Campbell
Lutz scores

SOCHI – In the history of women’s hockey at the international level, including the medals in these Olympics, there will have been a total of 78 medals awarded in the Olympics, World Championships and Under-18 World Championships. Canada, USA, Finland and Sweden have won all but five of them.

So it’s not often that a team such as Switzerland manages to crash the party. But if these Olympics have taught us anything, at least when it comes to the hockey tournaments, it’s to never, ever be surprised. Despite falling behind 2-0 after two periods, the Swiss women scored four straight goals in the third period to defeat Sweden 4-3 and win the bronze medal. It represents the first time ever that a team other than Canada, USA, Finland or Sweden has won a medal. Read more

IIHF president Fasel’s defense of women’s Olympic hockey a welcome sight

Adam Proteau
Natalie Spooner

Questions about the future of women’s hockey at the Olympics were answered directly by International Ice Hockey Federation president Rene Fasel Tuesday at the Sochi Games. And to the delight of fans of the women’s game, he delivered some heartening news by stating definitively that women’s hockey would never be removed as an Olympics sport.

“That will never happen,” Fasel said at a news conference in regard to dropping women’s hockey. “I can guarantee that.”

In 2010, then-International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge caused consternation by suggesting women’s hockey had to improve its competitive parity or face the possibility of being removed from the Games. But Fasel’s strong statement should put any worries to rest. While it’s true he isn’t the one ultimately making the decisions – that’s the I.O.C.’s job – the 64-year-old has been an I.O.C. member since 1995 and sits on its executive board as their winter sports delegate. If there was a serious move afoot to take the women’s game away, I suspect he wouldn’t be so confident in his choice of words Tuesday. But he was. Read more

THN in Sochi: USA, Canada ready for epic battle

Ken Campbell
Canada-USA

SOCHI – Looking forward to the women’s gold medal game at the 2014 Sochi Olympics, Canadian veteran Hayley Wickenheiser channeled her inner Coleman Young. “What is it they say, ‘Courage is one step ahead of fear?’ “ Wickenheiser said, quoting the former mayor of Detroit.

Fear is one thing Wickenheiser almost certainly won’t have going into the gold medal game against USA Thursday night. This will be her fifth championship game at the Olympics. She has been on the winning end of things three times. And at the age of 35, she is leading a team that is loaded with veteran talent.

If there is one area where Canada has big edge over the Americans, it’s in veteran experience. Both Wickenheiser and Jayna Hefford will be going for their fourth Olympic gold medals, while no player on the American team even has one. Captain Julie Chu has two silvers and a bronze.

“We’re going for a different color this time,” Chu said. American coach Katey Stone agreed. “It’s about time (Chu won a gold medal), isn’t it?”

Chu and her teammates may very well finally reach their goal. They’re young, fast and determined and have plenty of offensive firepower, something they showed in their 6-1 win over Sweden in the tournament semifinal. Canada, by contrast, had chance after outstanding chance in its 3-1 win over Switzerland in the other semifinal, but struggled to put pucks past goalie Florence Schelling.

But anyone who has played at a high level before knows the value of experience. Wickenheiser, for example, has seen everything. She has been on the winning end against the Americans far more than the losing end and there will be little that can rattle her.

“I think you always rely on what your make-up is and for us that’s a strong veteran presence,” Dineen said. “We have people who have been there before. We’ve also got a pretty good blend. There’s some real skill and high-end talent, including that group of veteran talent. I think the scale is pretty evenly matched, but any time we have meetings, people who have walked in these shoes before can certainly help us.”

Dineen is right about the scales being matched between these two teams. Including Canada’s 3-2 win over USA in the preliminary round, Dineen’s first as Canadian coach after taking over for Dan Church, the two teams have played eight times this season with each team winning four games. The Americans have outscored the Canadians 25-22, but Canada has won the games that have counted most so far – one in the Four Nations Tournament and the other in the preliminary round of the Olympics. And, of course their history of getting into fights has been well-documented.

“It’s going to be intense, they’re going to be at their best and we’re going to have to be our best,” said American defender Gigi Marvin. “We’re ready and we’re excited.”

“It comes down to one game and anything can happen,” said Canadian forward Meghan Agosta. “I think the better team is going to come out on top…and there’s no doubt in my mind that it’s going to be us.”

NOTES: A couple of great quotes came out of the Canada-Switzerland game. Swiss coach Rene Kammerer: “I’m very proud to be disappointed about our losing.” And Canadian coach Kevin Dineen, when asked why he was coaching women’s hockey: “Well, for one, I got fired and it opened up some real possibilities.”

 

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