Here's a good look at the current state of women's hockey globally, courtesy of Donna Spencer of The Canadian Press:
If the gap between the North Americans and the rest of the world has closed at all since Vancouver, it widens in an Olympic year because Canada and the U.S. play more games and spend more money on preparation than the rest.
But Russia and Switzerland are stepping up their games, tightening the race behind the North Americans.
Finland, the Swiss and the Russians have each won the bronze medal at the world championship over the last three years. Sweden, the Olympic silver medallist in 2006, fell behind those countries last year. Germany and Japan round out the Olympic field in Sochi.
Two embarrassing scores will be eliminated in Sochi simply because the IIHF changed the tournament format.
The top two ranked countries will never face the bottom two, which will prevent scores like the 18-0 thrashing Canada handed Slovakia to open the 2010 women's tournament.
The format change also has Canada and the U.S. squaring off in a preliminary-round game Feb. 12, which adds a marquee matchup to the tournament in addition to the final.
Here's the full story.