Canada’s national women’s hockey team will be going for gold in what has to be considered the most compelling Olympic women’s hockey tournament ever held thus far.
For hockey fans in Canada, women’s hockey has traditionally provided a series of blowout games for two weeks followed by an epic one game showdown with the Americans for the gold medal. That prompted this on Twitter from yours truly:
Women’s hockey should invite 8 teams, have 2 groups, winners of each group play in a best-of-7 for gold. I’d watch that.
— Rob The Hockey Guy (@RobTheHockeyGuy) February 8, 2014
Basically, I want to see more competitive games and quietly women’s hockey has achieved this. No, the whole world didn’t catch up to Canada and the USA overnight. Instead what happened was the tournament organizers changed the format to something I don’t think I’ve ever seen before.
The women’s tournament is composed of two pools of four teams. Instead of each pool being equal (ie. Canada in one pool and the USA in the other), they are completely unbalanced. The top four ranked teams (Canada, USA, Finland, Switzerland) competed in pool A, while the remaining four teams (Sweden, Russia, Germany, Japan) played in pool B. The top two teams in pool A (Canada and the USA) move directly to the semifinals while the bottom two teams in pool A play the top two teams from pool B in the quarterfinals.
The result has been the elimination of the types of blowouts that embarrassed the sport (save for a 9-0 result in the USA-Switzerland game) and the silencing of those critics calling for women’s hockey to be removed from the Olympics. Smart move. In the 2010 tournament, Canada won their first three games 18-0, 10-1 and 13-1 while the US won their first three games 12-1, 13-0 and 6-0.
The games in this tournament have been competitive so far, and we even got a bonus game between Canada and the US in the round robin. Canada won that game (in controversial fashion) which should bode well for the psyche of the Canadian players. The Americans carried a four-game winning streak over Canada into the round robin. Canada has won the last three Olympic gold medals in women’s hockey, while the US has won four of the last five World Championships.
Winning gold will not be easy for Canada. The Americans seem like they might have the better team this time around and they are probably hungrier for gold. The US hasn’t won gold since 1998 in the first women’s Olympic hockey tournament.
Canada plays their semifinal game against the winner of Russia/Switzerland on Monday at 4:30am PST. The gold medal game is on Thursday at 9am PST.