Friday, February 7, 2014

2014 Olympic Women's Hockey Preview

While the men's portion does not begin until Wednesday the 12th, the Women's Olympic Hockey Tournament begins tomorrow.

 photo sochi-2014-logo.jpg

The top five teams in the 2012 IIHF World Rankings all received automatic berths into the 2014 Olympics, with those nations being Canada, the United States, Finland, Switzerland and Sweden. The host nation Russia, then ranked 6th, was also given an automatic place as the host nation.

Like the men, a series of Preliminary, Pre-Qualification and Final Qualification tournaments were held, with Japan (currently ranked 10th) and Germany (currently 6th) joining the top six.

Different from the men, the women's tournament sees the top four nations placed in Group A, those being Canada, the United States, Switzerland and Finland, who will all advance to the Final Round single elimination playoffs.

Group B is made up of Sweden, Russia, Japan and Germany, the lower four teams in the competition. The format calls for the top two teams in Group B to advance to the Quarterfinals against the third and fourth place teams in Group A, while the top two teams in Group A receive byes directly into the Semifinals, a change in format made to increase the competitiveness of all games and cut down on some of the lopsided blowouts of the past.

Once again, look for the Canadians to face off against the Americans for the gold medal, as they have three of the four times since women's hockey was added to the Games and in all 15 of the Women's World Championships. To date, Canada has won the last three Olympic gold medals after the United States won the first in 1998 and 10 of 15 World Championships have gone to Canada, although the USA has taken four of the last five.

Canada women 2010 gold photo Canadawomen2010gold.jpg
Canada, celebrating gold in 2010, has had the measure
of the United States at the last three Olympics

Sweden is the only country to have broken the Canadian-American monopoly on the gold and sliver medals, having knocked the Americans out of the tournament in 2006 before losing to Canada in the gold medal game 4-1. They are currently ranked 4th, with 2010 bronze medalists Finland and their world class goaltender Nora Räty posing the biggest threat to the North Americans following her 38-0-0 record and .96 goals against average playing for the University of Minnesota last year, which culminated in the Gophers second consecutive national championship.

Raty Finland 2010 photo RatyFinland2010.jpg
Olympic veteran Räty led Finland to the bronze medal in 2010

After Canada won the first three exhibition games in October and early November, the Americans won the last four in December and seem to have the upper hand going in to Sochi. Two of those games in particular highlighted the intensity of their rivalry, as large brawls broke out among all the players on the ice.

The Preliminary Round women's games will take place February 8-13, with the playoffs on the 16th and 17th and the medal games on February 20th.

Today's featured jersey is a 1997-98 Canada National Team Danielle Goyette jersey.  This attractive "waving flag" jersey was a high water mark for international jerseys and was used during 1996 and 1997. The Canadian women's team wore a rose patch on theirs in memory of Rose Cherry, the late wife of Canadian hockey broadcasting icon Don Cherry, who passed away in 1997.

Goyette won eight World Championship and two Olympic gold medals during her career. She led all players in scoring during the 2002 Olympics and is Canada's all-time leading scorer at the World Championships, finishing her international career with 218 points in 171 games. She was chosen as Canada's flag bearer at the 2006 Olympic Games and in 2013 Goyette was inducted into the IIHF Hall of Fame.

Canada 1997-98 jersey photo Canada1997-98jersey.jpg
photo courtesy of Classic Auctions

Today's video section begins with highlights of the last Olympic gold medal game between the United States and Canada in 2010.

For an example of the intensity of the US vs. Canada rivalry in women's hockey, look no further than the second of two brawls the teams engaged in during their pre-Olympic exhibition schedule.

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