Womens Hockey

Greetings from the Canadian Rockies! It is I, the Committee Chairman and the co-owner of Notinhalloffame.com and I am bringing you the first of my articles that will touch on; well, whatever the hell I feel like!

Recently, I just moved from the Greater Toronto area to Jasper National Park in the heart of the Canadian Rockies. As I much I am missing Korean barbecue joints and a crack loving Mayors, the mountain surroundings and the fact I have a frozen lake where ice hockey is played regularly near my backyard have gotten me in the Winter Olympic spirit.

Canada Women
Personally, I love this version far more than the bloated summer counterpart where beyond Track and Field and Men’s Basketball[i], the rest is a blur where I am hitting refresh on the medal counter to see if Canada netted another one.[ii] With the Winter Olympics having far less events, even the events that I don’t care about are televised and damn it if it high definition on my near 50 inch TV doesn’t make me it look a lot better than it did four years ago than it did on my 32 inch standard definition!

Like every Winter Olympics, there will be jokes made and articles written about sports that don’t seem to belong. Do you want to start a late night drinking game? Channel surf and see how many times someone makes a veiled homoerotic joke about the Two Man Luge.

How about Curling? Here is another sport where the athleticism of the participants will be questioned and I get the criticism as in between ends, popping a beer seems easy enough. Personally, I find drinking beer makes the sport more enjoyable on television.

I have read pieces about the absurdity of the biathlon which combines shooting and cross country skiing and every Olympics there is a controversy about the judging in Figure Skating; though frankly I question any sport where the outcome is decided by judging.[iii]

What I haven’t heard very much of is the most absurd Winter Olympic sport of all, and dare I say the entire history of the Games; Women’s Hockey.

Bare with me, I am going somewhere with this. In 1984, Baseball returned to the Summer Olympics as a demonstration sport and received full status as an official sport in 1992 lasting five Olympics until it was removed after 2008. As was expected, Cuba was the big player winning three Golds and two Silvers as their best players were still there and not restricted by professional obligations in the summer. The United States and South Korea won the other two.

The IOC President, Jacques Rogge stated in an interview about the possibility of Baseball’s return to the Games:

"To be on the Olympic program is an issue where you need universality as much as possible. You need to have a sport with a following, you need to have the best players and you need to be in strict compliance with WADA (World Anti-Doping Agency). And these are the qualifications that have to be met. When you have all that, you have to win hearts. You can win the mind, but you still must win hearts.”

First off, I’m not touching the doping part of the quote. Lord knows I have spent too much time engaging in the debate of Performance Enhancing Drugs in regards to Baseball, and it is a subject that I have become quite tired of. Unlike Basketball, Tennis and Ice Hockey, the best players aren’t coming to the Olympics.[iv] Now the part up universality is where it gets interesting for us.

USA WomenThe sport can’t claim that it has true global appeal. The best team in Europe is Italy, which is made up of Americans of Italian decent who weren’t good enough to make Team U.S.A.., and the Dutch team is comprised of Caribbean players from the Netherlands Antilles. South Africa participates at a mediocre level representing the African Continent and though Asia produced three solid teams in Japan, South Korea and Taiwan, the reality is that the sport is unlikely to broaden beyond what it has already accomplished.

Is this really so bad? I for one love Baseball, but it is a sport that does not have the global impact necessary to make it a viable Olympic event, nor does it really benefit the sport one bit if it is in or not.

A Summer Olympic sport should at least have a dozen countries from different continents capable of winning a medal and have at minimum a second tier of athletes/teams who can compete without embarrassing themselves. This is not an Olympic bylaw, it is just common sense![v]

You can’t ask the same of the Winter Olympics due to obvious reasons of climate, though it is still reasonable to ask for each sport to field contestants from at least six countries who can field athletes or a team that are capable of winning a Gold in any given Games.

That is a reasonable number isn’t it? This should be attainable easily for any Olympic Sport and it is; except for one: Women’s Hockey.

In 1992, the IOC voted to admit Women’s Hockey to the Olympics starting in the 1998 Nagano Games with the intent of increasing the number of women at the Olympics. At that time, there had only been two Women’s World Hockey Championships, both of which were won by Canada in decisive margins over the United States (5-2 in 1990, 8-0 in 1992).

The Americans closed the gap quickly and would win the first Olympic Tournament in Japan. To date, Canada has still had the overall edge in the head to head matches, but the U.S. is going in as the favorite in Sochi.

The United States have raised their game, but what about everyone else? From greenrope.com, I found the career histories of teams against Canada and the United States in their overall history.

Finland, which has ten third place finishes in past World Championships, sports a 1 and 58 record against Canada. This isn’t a misprint; it is 1 win against 58 losses! They did much better against the United States where they have a stellar 2-2-54 record.

So, the team that historically has been the third best team in the sport is a combined 3-2-116 against the top two? Can you think of any team sport where this has ever happened? Okay, what about Sweden, which had their own “Miracle on Ice” where they upended the United States in the 2006 in the semi-final to go against the Canadians? Sweden would lose 4-1 in the final where they had a whopping eight shots on goal, so maybe they have a better record historically.

They don’t. Their record against the Canadians is 1-53 and that one win against the U.S. in the Olympics was their only one in 37 tries. The Swedish women called it their “Miracle on Ice” but since they didn’t beat Canada in the Gold Medal game, what kind of miracle is that?

Now we are in Sochi, Russia and the fifth installment of the Women’s Hockey tournament in the Olympics which will feature eight teams:

  • Canada
  • United States
  • Finland
  • Switzerland
  • Sweden
  • Russia
  • Slovakia
  • Germany
Recognizing that there is wide gap between the North American teams and everyone else, the top four ranked teams (CAN, USA, FIN, SUI) will compete in a Round Robin where the bottom four ranked (SWE, RUS, SLO, GER) will compete in another.[vi]

The Round Robin featuring the two power houses is to set up a bye to the semi-finals for the top two teams. The bottom two will face the top two in the “B-Team Group” or basically “The Group where we think that they might lose by PlayStation numbers to either Canada or the USA, so we are trying to avoid further embarrassing the sport”.

The Swiss women, who have improved to the fourth spot, and they have never beaten Canada or the U.S., and in the 2013 World Championships they lost 13-0 to Canada and 5-0 to the U.S. Again, this is a team that was put in the “elite” group.

When asked about the changes to the tournament, Katey Stone, the Coach of the United States said she thought it was “great for the game, it’s great for the spectators”. She added that when “you come to an Olympic event you want to play the best competition when you put on that jersey”

Translation: “I know that everyone other than Canada sucks and beating the crap out of them does nothing to help our sport.”

This is the sport going in self preservation mode. It has to. Nobody expected in Nagano for there to be any kind of parity. The hope was by exposing it on the Olympic stage that other nations would improve creating a more competitive atmosphere. Surely in sixteen years we would have more than a battle for Bronze right? We haven’t, and now we have the only Olympic Sport which has restructured its tournament to mask the disparity between the nations.

Jacques Rogge has even said that it “can’t continue without improvement” and it has announced a 2.1 million dollar initiative to increase participation of the sport worldwide; a reactionary move again showing that the IOC even recognizes it doesn’t belong, at least not yet.

Ironically, Woman’s Hockey has not advanced as hoped in North America either. Despite the tone of this article, I am looking forward to the Canada/U.S. game. They are evenly matched, legitimately don’t like each other and for them, and unlike the men’s game, this is what they trained their entire life for. The problem is that I care about this game once every four years, and am content to forget about them until 2018 and based on the attendance in the professional leagues in North America, nobody else does either.

Currently, the largest professional league in North America is the Canadian Women’s Hockey League, which has five teams (Brampton, Toronto, Calgary, Montreal and Boston)[vii] which have an average attendance of 200 people per game. Yep, 200. The concession stands must make a mint at those games. Calling the league a professional might be a misnomer too. The players get their travel and equipment paid for, but don’t actually get paid for the games.

Conversely, the WNBA has turned the corner in terms of popularity and skill level, whereby legitimate sporting stars have been made. Women’s Soccer failed in a recent incarnation but still average an attendance of 3,500 per game. It was resurrected in the form of the National Women’s Soccer League which has a healthier financial backer and eight teams. Both Women’s Basketball and Women’s Soccer have proven to matter in the Olympics, but those have translated into a true expansion of the sport…unlike Women’s Hockey which has shown zero evidence of ever being viable on the professional level.

So here we are in 2014, with only one game that people want to see, the same as it was in 1998. One day, there will be a time where this sport will belong in the Olympics, and the continued bi-annual World Championships and other tournaments will flush that out. Until that time but in NHL Live on your PlayStation and play on the easy mode; it will be more competitive.

[i] Okay, Women’s Beach Volleyball holds my attention for obvious reasons.
[ii] I have always found it fascinating how for one minute I will think “Yes, we got a Bronze in Women’s 48KG Freestyle Wrestling”, and a minute later that just becomes a Bronze in the Canada category without remembering how it got there.
[iii] Want to eliminate controversies? Put them all on the ice at the same time and the last one standing wins.
[iv] They barely come to the World Baseball Classic which was designed to replicate the World Cup of Soccer. When the United States the home of the sport barely cares about it, what is the point of it at all?
[v] It wasn’t that long ago I read someone’s blog about why American Football should be included sue to global viewing of the Super Bowl. Imagine the disaster that would see the United States VS the African Champion….let’s say Ghana. You thought the Super Bowl was lopsided?
[vi] I am setting the over/under on paid tickets (not including relatives of the players) on the Slovakia/Germany game at eight and a half.
[vii] This is not including six teams that have already folded.
Last modified on Thursday, 19 March 2015 18:47
Committee Chairman

Kirk Buchner, "The Committee Chairman", is the owner and operator of the site.  Kirk can be contacted at [email protected] .

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