Sunday, April 6, 2008

Women's Hockey: Canada and the US on top

When it comes to women's international hockey, it's hard to argue the notion that the sport is dominated by Canada and the United States. Since the first world championships in 1990, the only team Canada has lost to in international tournaments has been the US, and (other than a semi-finals loss to Sweden in the Torino Olympics) the US has only lost to Canada.

Many critics have argued that this is unfair and that women's hockey should not be an Olympic sport because it is one-sided (or two-sided). After all, for most teams, the main battle has been for the bronze medal.

Critics call Team Canada names because they always play a hard game from the opening faceoff until the last buzzer, and typically win by a large margin. I can only imagine what they'll say after today's 11-0 victory over Team China (with a 5-save shutout by Charline Labonte - though she said that she faced 8 or 9 shots) at the 2008 World Championships in China. Afterall, everyone gave them crap for winning 16-0 against Team Italy at the 2006 Olympics.

Here's my opinion: Canada, the United States, and every other team should play to the best of their abilities at all times. For Canada or the US to dumb down their games when they play other teams is completely disrespectful in itself. It sends the message that the other teams are not worthy of their best game. It also lets a few bad habits creep into your game, which will bite you in the ass in the later rounds.

The win over China is not exactly surprising. Just take a look at the number of registered female hockey players in each country: Canada has 70,000....China has less than 150. Something similar can be said about many countries (say, Italy).

Sure, many teams will get clobbered by Canada and the US, as has been the case in years past, but those teams are getting better. Sweden is starting to catch up, thanks in large part to super-goalie Kim Martin. Finland is getting better too. The playing field will soon be level, and it won't be a sport dominated by the US and Canada. Remember when the Soviet Union dominated international hockey in the 60s and 70s and nobody could beat them? Well, things have changed, starting with the "Miracle on Ice" team at the 1980 Lake Placid Olympics.

Canada and the US may be on top of the pile right now, but other teams will take their experiences against us to learn.

As Team China head coach Steve Carlyle said following today's game, "We'd been looking forward to that game all year. It was an emotional letdown for us. This was an opportunity to play the best team in the world and learn. We still have a long way to go. Team Canada respected us by battling hard through the entire game.''


Stoosh said...


First of all, kudos to Meghan Agosta, who has helped put the women's program at Mercyhurst College in my old hometown of Erie on the map.

I completely agree, though. I never understood how legislating dominant programs out of a competitive arena helps anything. In the spirit of COMPETITION, isn't is supposed to be up to each entity to elevate their play?

It's not up to the programs like Canada and US to dumb down their game in order to level the playing field. The PGA isn't forcing Tiger Woods to ease up; the rest of the field has to catch him.

The NHL is a perfect example of what can happen when the league tries to level the playing field by making things more difficult on its talented players. It's the reason the quality of play suffered in the six or seven years prior to the lockout.

DaBich said...

11-0!?!? Holy chit! Had to be quite a show. Congrats to the Canadian team.

Ashley said...

Stoosh - I'm glad to see that I'm not the only one to share this opinion. It's frustrating to hear so many of the so-called 'experts' slam Canada for playing their game for 60 minutes. Don't we all want our team to play 60 minutes of solid hockey??

And I did notice Agosta's name on the scoresheet yesterday. She scored a few the other day too. At only 21, she's going to be one hell of a force to be reckoned with in years to come.

Dabich - Team USA tends to put up similar scores in international tournaments. They posted an 8-1 win over Germany to open the tournament, and a 7-1 victory over Switzerland yesterday.