by Zach Hawkins
Women’s hockey has been increasing in popularity over the past few years and this year’s Olympics will hopefully continue the upward trend in its popularity.
Many people believe that, of the eight teams who were lucky enough to qualify for Sochi — the top four in the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) world rankings and four qualifying tournament winners — only the USA and Canada have any chance of winning a gold medal at this year’s games. Since the introduction of Women’s Hockey to the Olympics in 1998, The US and Canada have dominated the sport, with Team USA taking the gold in 1998, and Canada in 2002, 2006, and 2010.
We would add Finland to the mix. In the last major IIHF tournament, the Four Nations Cup, Finland upset Team USA and advanced to the gold medal game against Canada. Although they didn’t win the gold medal, this was a huge step for Finland to be recognized as a world powerhouse in women’s hockey.
Looking ahead to the tournament in Sochi, the teams will be split into two groups. Group “A” is composed of the top four teams in the IIHF rankings: USA, Canada, Finland, and Switzerland. Group “B” includes the four qualifying tournament winners: Russia, Sweden, Germany, and Japan. Each team will play every opponent in their group in a round robin style tournament before being seeded for the medal round.
The Women’s tournament kicks off bright and early Saturday morning at 3am EST when the number one ranked team in the world, USA, plays number three Finland in a Four Nations rematch. This is a great way to start off the tournament and should be a very fast paced game. This will also be the first game action for USA forward Amanda Kessel (Madison, WI/ University of Minnesota) after a long absence due to injury.
Other games of interest throughout the round robin portion of the tournament include Canada vs. Finland on February 10th at 10am EST, Russia vs. Sweden February 13th at 12pm EST, and. of course, USA vs. Canada on February 12th at 7:30am EST. You are able to find the schedule to all of the games on various media outlet websites or through the Sochi Olympics mobile app on your smartphone.
After coming close in 2010, team USA is looking to gain their first Olympic gold since 1998. Captain Meghan Duggan, veterans Julie Chu, Hillary Knight, and twin sisters Jocelyne and Monique Lamoureux are going to do whatever it takes to gain gold this year for their team and country. They, and the rest of their teammates, know exactly what they need to do to do just that. This USA team is loaded with talent.
Team Canada is the defending gold medal winner, and will have the biggest target on their backs for the tournament. This veteran squad also knows what it takes to win and has the experience, and hardware, to prove it. They are led by forward Hayley Wickenheiser, who is playing in her sixth Olympic games. Look for her veteran leadership to push team Canada through the medal round.
And then there’s Finland. The Fins have been hot as of late, winning many of their pre-Olympic exhibition match-ups over the holidays. With the best goalie in the world, Noora Raty (University of Minnesota), between the pipes for Finland, scoring goals won’t come easy. Also look for Veteran forward Michelle Karvinen (University of North Dakota) to help lead the way on the offensive side of play. If any team is going to make an upset run it will be team Finland.
The next two weeks are the most exciting times in the lives of the women’s hockey players, especially since there really are no recognized professional leagues for them. Look for fast paced, and hard fought games throughout the entire tournament.
Zach Hawkins is currently a student at the University of North Dakota studying communications with a minor in German. Calling Ham Lake, Minnesota home, Zach enjoys cooking, going to the lake, writing in his hockey blog on Tumblr, and is passionate for NHL and UND hockey. You can read his Hockey Blog here: siouxhockey33.tumblr.com.