Women’s (ice) hockey has come a long way in a short space of time.
It wasn’t until 1990 that the first IIHF World Women’s Championship took place in Ottawa with Canada winning the inaugural event.
In 1992 Women’s Ice Hockey was accepted as an Olympic discipline with the first tournament played in Nagano 1998.
That’s just twenty-five years of competitive international hockey with Sochi 2014 just the fifth Olympic games to host Women’s hockey.
As is normal with a new sport introduced internationally there was dominance and it took until 2006 for a North American country defeat to suffer defeat to a European counterpart, when Sweden beat the USA via a shootout in the semi-finals of the Olympics in Turin.
During these current Olympics games, I believe we’ve once more seen an improvement in the Women’s game and it’s becoming so much more competitive.
If I can take you back to the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver for a second to compare.
Canada and the United States both won their three group games and outscored their opponents by 73-3.
The rest of the games in the group weren’t overly competitive with just a pair of games, both involving China, decided by a solitary goal. In Canada’s group, no game was closer than three goals between the sides.
This was a trend that continued up until the medal games where Sweden and Finland fought out an exciting game that ended with the latter winning in overtime, and as we know Canada beat the USA 2-0 in the final for a Canadian double gold in hockey.
Even in the final pre-qualification tournament for Sochi there was a lot of close competition with only a pair of blowouts, both by scores of 5-0.
Of the twelve games played, half were decided by a solitary goal, whilst another three games had just two goals between the competing countries.
In these 2014 games, we’ve seen some incredibly exciting Women’s hockey games with some tremendous performances.
Japan have endeared themselves to the casual fan with hard work and endeavour, and whilst they lost all three games they came close to getting at least a point on two occasions and perhaps had a video review been called they might have even claimed a victory!
Of the twelve group games, 50% were close, with four one goal games and two decided by a pair of goals.
Canada may have defeated Finland by a score line of 3-0 but the Finn’s made Canada wait until the 50th minute to open the scoring as they frustrated their more illustrious opponents.
Switzerland succumbed to two heavy defeats from USA and Canada (9-0 and 5-0) but they responded well to run Finland close in their final game, going down by a score of 4-3.
The quarter finals were both intriguing games with Sweden just getting the better of Finland 4-2, whilst Switzerland with excellent goaltending from Schelling, blanked the hosts Russia 2-0.
Two of the four classification games were decided by a single goal whilst the legend that is Noora Raty (more on her later) recorded a shootout in a 4-0 win, in what she says will be her last game in women’s hockey.
The USA semi-final against Sweden may not have been competitive but the tournament favourites stepped up their game and it was like watching the old American basketball dream team, who crushed everyone in their path with so much offensive talent.
Canada would ease past Switzerland in what seemed an easier game than the 3-1 score line would suggest and we are left with another North American contest for the Gold once more and it promises to be a belter.
Some would say it’s boring having the same teams contesting the Gold yet again.
Well if we go back to the Men’s early Olympic Games it was no different.
Canada won six of the first seven whilst the one they didn’t win was won by a GB team packed with Canadian ex- pats.
The Soviet Union then went on to win seven of the next nine with USA winning on the two occasions the Soviets failed to.
Did anyone say those years were boring or uncompetitive?
The Women’s game has come a long way but still has much more work to do.
There is no professional league and that has to happen to take their game to the next level and therefore make teams far more competitive.
As I mentioned before, Noora Raty has played her last game in Women’s hockey and announced her retirement from International hockey.
She is just 24 years of age.
Raty will try out for a Men’s team as she endeavours to play professional hockey but the drag of trying to earn a living while training and playing in Women’s hockey has become too much for her to bear.
Why shouldn’t a talented net minder like her, be able to earn a living in the game she loves?
I will post her “retirement” letter at the foot of this article.
The focus on moving the game forward should look no further than current Switzerland young starlet Alina Muller.
At 15 years old, she is the third youngest hockey player to have competed in the Olympic games.
I’d never seen her play before these Olympic but she looks the part and you would have no clue as to her tender age.
Normally Muller plays with the boys and competes in the second-tier U17 league with EHC Winterthur and according to an interview she recently gave, she play’s on the top two lines.
It probably isn’t at the fore front of her mind right now but what does the future hold for her hockey career in the next ten years?
To encourage more women to keep playing the game there needs to be an end goal for the talented players to play professional once they are done with education.
As good as the Canadian Women’s hockey leagues are in talent, they essentially are just amateur’s with basic costs covered and games only played at weekend’s. These ladies still have to find a way to earn a living while playing and training.
I’ll leave you with Raty’s announcement as food for thought but also as a reminder to enjoy what an entertaining and competitive sport Women’s ice hockey is becoming across the world and not just North America.