Chick Puck Is Peaking in Sochi
When the hockey schedule lists 'Canada v USA' on a given date, do know the players involved circle it on their calendars.
In this case, they do it in lipstick.
The men's rivalry between the two nations is adrenaline-amped, and the women's version is right there with them, giving no quarter whatsoever.
The rivalry has become so much so that the extent of their preparations to compete against each other has become a virtual arms race. In the process, these two squads have risen so far above the rest of the female hockey world that they're in a stratosphere all their own.
And that's where the world of international women's hockey gets complicated.
As evidenced in last night's latest clash -- this time in Sochi, during the preliminary round of the women's tournament, won by Canada, 3-2 -- these two teams can pack the house. The hockey is high speed, skillful, and totally entertaining. It's as if each game is a matter of life-or-death, and maybe it is.
Everyone knows Canada's obsession with hockey. What with the long overdue opportunities for women in sport coming to fruition, females flocked to the ice in the Great White North. Title IX gave American women top-flight places to play, and the colleges eagerly accepted talented Canadians and Europeans, as well. Hockey Canada and USA Hockey followed with programs and facilities for the most elite of them, and naturally set their collective eyes on each other.
In short, both nations support their women's teams on a full-time basis. Other nations do not, and the chasm is painfully displayed at each international event. It's reminiscent of the old Celtic v Rangers clashes, where Scottish football's top division included other teams, but none of them mattered.
However, within the framework of international women's hockey, other teams do matter. Exasperation at keeping pace with Canada and the USA has caused the Germans, for example, to question their commitment. This is not good. It's gotten to the point that, in Sochi, the Olympic Tournament features the top four seeds in one preliminary pool with the other four in the other grouping. This way, blowouts are minimized. It also adds an extra moneymaker in a second Canada-USA matchup, which for them was typically dramatic.
From every aspect, then, Canada and the USA are Olympic women's hockey. They're obviously attractive to North American audiences who love to see their teams win, especially against traditional opponents, ie- each other.
A ray of hope for the minnows may come from Finland, a country that cranks out quality goaltenders like Nokia used to do with smartphones. The Finns played Canada tough, but the thought remained that the Canadians were simply tuning up. Sweden has had close matches with the two juggernauts, but like the Finns, it will need a goalie to stand on her head. Japan has made strides, but that just means that it's now losing close games to the European squads.
So, while money, demographics, and politics keep women's hockey in the Olympic discussion, its standard bearers continue to put on a show that its organizers want to inspire rather than discourage their competition. And it's a show that sometimes knows no bounds:
Clearly, both teams will be ready for the gold medal game on Thu 20 Feb.