This is an exciting weekend for hockey fans. Not because of the NHL All-Star Game (though I’m sure you all were just as excited as I that Stanley Cup Champion Tom Wilson got the nod). Because Olympic hockey started. Save me your bitching about NHL players not participating; I’m not here to talk about the men, I’m here to talk about the women.
Considering most female hockey players have to retire before age 30 thanks to barely getting paid to play in any professional league, the Olympic Games is their Stanley Cup. Women’s hockey worldwide has suffered during this pandemic. While the KHL, AHL, NHL, and many more leagues only paused or shortened their seasons over the past two years, the women have had entire seasons canceled. While U18 men’s teams around the world got to play at least some of their World Championships, women of any age did not.
Needless to say, the wait for Olympic hockey has been more brutal than ever for women. We’ve seen the hunger for gold already. Let’s appreciate the play so far.
The Czechs are off to a strong start. They opened against host China and won 3-1. Not a surprise, but a good way to start off the tournament. Yesterday, they played Sweden and won again 3-1. Between the two hockey nations, my money would not have been on the Czechs. But they are looking strong so far and have a very good chance in the quarterfinals. They play Denmark tomorrow.
I’ll be honest, coming into this tournament, I expected the Swedes to be dominant in this Group. Sweden is a hockey country and I expected them to be much stronger than Japan and China, which are not. To my surprise, Sweden lost their first game of the tournament 3-1 to Japan. They then won their second game to the Czechs, also 3-1, yesterday. They play China tomorrow and I’m not confident that they can win. And even if they do, it won’t get them through to the quarterfinals.
I’m sure the Danish players are very excited to be able to play in this tournament. In 2018, there were only 8 teams in the tournament. This year, there are 10. Denmark and the Czech Republic are the two qualifying teams whose play did not qualify them in 2018. That said, they’re not faring well in actual play. Denmark played China on Friday and lost 3-1. Yesterday, they played Japan and lost 6-2. Not a great showing, but for a team that doesn’t get much international attention, I think they’re just happy to be there.
It goes to show how little I remember from 2018, that I didn’t think Japan was going to do well. I should have expected more, considering they put in a good effort for 6th place. That said, Japan has started with a bang. They opened on Thursday with a 3-1 win over Sweden. Yesterday, they dominated Denmark in a 6-2 victory. Their first loss came this morning in the form of a crazy upset by China, 2-1, in a shootout. Even so, Japan sits at the top of Group B.
Unlike the other teams playing, as the host country, China did not have to play to qualify. For countries where hockey isn’t a big sport, that usually doesn’t go well. China is clearly making the most out of the opportunity presented to them. They opened their tournament on Thursday with a 3-1 loss against the Czech Republic. While a loss isn’t ideal to open with, 3-1 is a very respectable score. On Friday, China came back swinging, with a 3-1 win over Denmark. That already puts them ahead of Korea when they hosted in 2018 (Korea did not win any games). And then, this morning, they were able to pull off that crazy upset against Japan in the shootout. While it could just be a fluke or run of good luck, it looks like we’ll be seeing China in the quarterfinals.
Finland took the Bronze in Pyeongchang, so they were almost guaranteed to be a challenger in Beijing. Their schedule has not done them any favors, though. They started their run on Thursday with a 5-2 loss to the US (not 5-1, as the US team initially thought). Their second game was against Canada and was an even more brutal loss of 11-1 yesterday. I’m sure it will be a relief to play Switzerland tomorrow.
The Swiss were able to jump from Group B in 2018 to Group A in 2022; whether that’s good or bad is yet to be seen. Their start has not been much easier than Finland’s. On Thursday, they lost to Canada 12-1. Friday, they lost to the Russian Olympic Committee 5-2, which I’m sure felt at least a tiny bit better than 12-1. This morning, they were unable to score at all in an 8-0 loss to the US. For the lowest-seeded in Group A, it’s going to be an uphill battle for a medal.
The Russians are no doubt on the hunt for a medal this year, after coming just short in Pyeongchang. To start on Friday, the Russians won 5-2 against the Swiss. From there, their schedule does not get any easier. They lost yesterday 5-0 to the US. They play Canada tomorrow, then Finland on Tuesday. For those (like me) who forgot 2018, the ROC lost the Bronze medal match against Finland.
The USWNT went to China knowing it was going to be a dog fight to repeat their Gold medal performance in Korea. In their opener with Finland, they won 5-2 but lost one of their top players Brianna Decker. Yesterday, they beat the ROC 5-0; Nicole Hensely got the shut out. This morning, the US played Switzerland and won 8-0; Alex Cavallini got the shut out and three different players were in the hunt for hat tricks. Their next game will be the headliner; they play Canada at 11:10 pm on Tuesday.
Canada is definitely looking to take back the Gold from 2018. They have not let up on the gas since starting the Olympic tournament. They won 12-1 against the Swiss and 11-1 against Finland. They don’t play again until tomorrow when they’ll face the ROC. Given that the US shut the ROC out yesterday, I have no doubts Canada will be looking to do the same with more points on the board for themselves.
Women’s hockey is definitely different than men’s, but that doesn’t make it any less competitive. The women in this tournament are passionate about what they do. No matter what position they’re in, they’re hungry for the ice time they’ve been deprived of since early 2020. It’s clear to me that these athletes are giving everything they have, even if the scores don’t necessarily reflect that. Countries with stronger hockey programs are obviously ahead, but every country is striving for success. I’m excited to see how the rest of the games play out.
Photo credit to the NYPost.
-Heidi Thomas (@DamselOnDrums)
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