February 13, 2010
Women's 2010 Olympic Hockey Preview
I hate to say it, but the American women enter the Vancouver 2010 Olympics as the team to beat.
Ready For Redemption
Granted, any difference in power between USA and Canada is slight. But the Americans are looking to avenge a disappointing 2006 Olympics and get revenge for Canada's gold medal victory on American soil in 2002. They also have an advantage behind the bench.
USA will feature a new wave of young players who are hungry, speedy and skilled. They may lack experience, but that should not be a huge concern. Hockey has really become a young person's game in recent years, be it in the NHL or in women's hockey. And experience may not be as important for them because they will have played their arch rivals from Canada in so many exhibition games leading up to the Olympics that there will be no surprises for them.
Key Player - Hilary Knight - Ms. Knight is the youngest player on the team, aged 20, but poised to become a star in women's hockey. She is a powerful forward with a wicked shot. She has a special chemistry with veteran Jenny Potter, who will guide her.
Also Know - Just nine days older than Knight are the the Lamoureux twins - Jocelyne and Monique. They have Quebec-like names, but they will very much prove to be thorns in Canada's side for years to come. Jessie Vetter is an excellent goalie, dominating the college scene and chasing veteran Chanda Gunn from the crease.
Don't Forget - Canadian fans will undoubtedly remember veterans Angela Ruggiero, Julie Chu, Natalie Darwitz and Potter. They will also be very familiar with the American's cagey coach - Mark Johnson. The former NHLer is better known for his role as a star player in America's Miracle on Ice in 1980, and as the son of one of hockey's greatest coaches ever, Badger Bob Johnson
Canadian Pressure Cooker
Both the men's and women's Canadian hockey teams (plus the sledge team for that matter) face an unreal amount of pressure to win, perhaps at a level never really seen by any country before. Win gold at home, in a country where silver is a huge failure. That's tough. It really should not be that way, but it is. Perhaps these Olympics will teach Canadians as much about themselves as about their hockey teams.
That being said there really is little to choose from between Canada and USA. In a one-day show tournament like this, it really is a coin toss. America probably has some intangibles favoring them. Somehow the Canadian women have to refocus all that pressure into positive energy in the gold medal game.
By the way, in a 10 game exhibition series leading into the Olympics, the Canadian women went 7-3, outscoring the Americans 33-19.
Key Player - Hayley Wickenheiser - She has been billed as the best female player in the world for some time now. She represents Canada's whole team perfectly - very offensive minded, very aggressive and well rounded but not quite as quick as many of the American players.
Also Know - Becky Kellar - The Americans are packing lots of offense and lots of speed. Kellar's veteran presence on a young Canadian blue line will be essential for success.
Don't Forget - Canada has a lot of veteran players here, perhaps by design to combat the pressure of the hometown games. Jayna Hefford, Jennifer Botterill, Carla MacLeod, Gillian Apps, Colleen Sorstorics and whoever they decide to use in net (Kim St. Pierre, Shannon Szabados or Charline Labonte) all can handle to the pressure.
All the other nations are likely to be also rans, although as 2006 proved to us we should not take that for granted. Here's a quick look at the other competing nations' key players:
Sweden - Kim Martin - Generally considered the third best country for female hockey, Sweden will once again look to goaltender Kim Martin for a miracle, as happened in 2006 when they played in the gold medal game against Canada. She's recovering from a knee injury, but is practicing with men for Malmo in the Swedish Elite League. She'll be ready.
Sweden also boasts good scorers in Erika Holst, Maria Rooth and Elin Holmlov, and watch for Tina Enstrom, sister of Tobias Enstrom, to make a big debut.
Finland - Michelle Karvinen - She's actually Danish, but thanks to her father's Finnish passport, she's able to represent her adopted home at the Olympics. She's just 19, but is the best player for the Finns
Russia - Ekaterian Smolentseva - The 28 year old is Russia's leading scoring threat, but with next to no depth Russia will be in tough.
China - Sun Rui - The Chinese women's hockey team will surprise people in these Olympics. Sun Rui is said to be good enough to be considered for Team Canada if she were Canadian. She plays in Canada, as does team captain Wang Linuo, forward Jin Fengling and defender Qi Xueting. With Vancouver's high Chinese population, watch for them to be local favorites.
Switzerland - Florence Schelling - The Swiss will hope to ride a hot goaltender to a podium finish, and Schelling has that potential. She plays US college hockey at Northeastern. She also has Olympic experience already, representing her country in 2006 as a 16 year old netminder.
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I would add to this list: Noora Räty, Finland's goaltender. She plays with the Minnesota Golden Gophers and she's likely to be one of the stars of the tournament (regardless of backstopping a comparatively weak national team).
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