Canada and the United States still dominate women’s hockey

BEIJING – Andrea Braendley, the Swiss goalkeeper, was not mistaken for an Olympic gold medal.

“If we play for a gold medal,” she said before the Beijing Games, “it will be a miracle on the ice.”

Her score was as clear as any for the women’s hockey tournament. Despite all the talk and hopes for a draw in women’s hockey, the tournament will end like all but one of them at the Olympics: with Canada and the United States vying for gold, and two others – this time Finland and Switzerland – looking for bronze.

Measured by the average winnings of Americans and Canadians when playing with each team against each other, the tournament is the worst in the 2010 Games, when there was open talk about whether to keep women’s hockey as an Olympic sport.

This discussion is now more limited to social media and newspaper columns, and the International Ice Hockey Federation is even talking about expanding the women’s tournament, which has grown to 10 teams this year to match the 12-nation men’s competition.

Ultimately, this could prove to be a competitive remedy and give more countries new incentives to support women’s hockey programs. In the meantime, however, another Olympic cycle is delivering a result that may feel as predetermined as anyone in international sport.

It is true that the Americans and Canadians did not win every double-digit match, and that an energetic Czech team that debuted in the women’s Olympic tournament made the United States fail last week. But Monday’s semi-finals pitted Canada and the United States against teams they had already manually thwarted.

Monday brought more of the same. Canada beat Switzerland 10-3, while the United States beat Finland 4-1.

The bronze medal will be settled on Wednesday in Beijing, while the long-running US-Canadian gold clash will be played on Thursday (Wednesday night in Canada and the United States).

North American players insist that women’s hockey is rapidly approaching more and more fierce competition due to increased costs and interest around the world. Their game, like many other women’s sports, is in catch-up mode; men’s hockey made its Olympic debut 78 years before women’s.

“The difference is definitely narrowing, which is great in terms of 30,000 feet,” said Hillary Knight, an American at her fourth Olympics. “From the point of view of the players, you always want to win, but it’s great to see other countries invest more in women’s ice hockey and also allocate resources, because that’s really what different teams need to compete. “

As US Captain Kendall Coyne Schofield put it: “If they don’t have the tools to succeed, you are handing them a sentence that prevents them from being successful. This is so often the case in women’s sports: Go out and be as good as men with half the resources. ”

Both women are striving to improve pay and shine the spotlight on the sport. However, the battle for public attention is relentless and there are still established inequalities in the development of players, even in the hockey power of women like the United States. In a report last year, for example, investigators said the NCAA spent more than $ 9,800 on a student who competed in the 2019 national men’s hockey tournament – and $ 3,421 per player in the women’s competition.

Despite the headwinds, there were signs of possible pitfalls for Americans and Canadians, evidence that North American teams have taken advantage to energize the public – and themselves – that their opponents are approaching.

European expectations have remained subdued anyway.

“It’s much better when other countries give a tough game to the United States and Canada, but I don’t think we can say they’re not favorites,” said Zuzana Tomcikova, the Slovak goalkeeper in the 2010 Canadian match. won 18-0. “Europe is coming. It gets there, and if you look at it one way, it’s slow because it will take years, while other countries will be able to compete with the United States and Canada.

Tomčikova, who predicts the Czech team’s potential to provoke heartburn in North America in Beijing, sees two evolving, albeit far from quick, strategies to expand the game.

One is the simple fact that women’s hockey, populated by elite players who remember when they were the only girls on the rinks in their hometown, is more visible than ever, with the increase in television broadcasting, which encourages future generations of players to start to train earlier. Another is the type of training available, with more complexity, more frequent and easier access to high-quality training and competition.

However, Monday showed how far the game should go. In just over three minutes, Canada scored five goals. Switzerland managed to fire only two shots.

So Braindley and Switzerland will play for bronze.

“When you play for a medal, it doesn’t matter what the medal is,” she said. “It’s a huge deal.”

Besides, almost everyone knew it was the best anyone in North America could aspire to this time.

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