Olympic Hockey

by barbaragarn

Opening ceremonies tonight!

The women start playing tomorrow (Feb. 13) and Team USA takes the ice on Valentine’s Day, playing China. The men start on Feb. 16, when Team USA takes on Switzerland.

I remember the pre-Salt Lake matchups back in 2002; the national teams played one another at different venues around the U.S. and one of those was at St. Cloud State. We watched China play (and noticed their fans in the stands kept buying nachos, but eating only the chips and leaving the dip)– a Minnesota paper had run an article that I think said there were only three rinks in China at the time, and there were more high school girls hockey PROGRAMS in Minnesota, than there were Chinese female hockey PLAYERS. I think that’s what it was–doubtless things have changed since.

Of course, Team USA was training at the Superrink in Blaine all summer; that and three Minnesota players sure makes this feel like a hometown team: Natalie Darwitz of Eagan, Gigi Marvin of Warroad and Jenny Potter of Edina. Wisconsin also has three players on the team and Massachusetts has four.

I like watching not just because they were trained here, but also because this no-check game is the one we play. It’s amazing to see it at its very highest level by athletes who know it so well.

What to watch for: Last Olympics, Sweden dealt a terrific upset to the world of women’s hockey. For many years, it was a North American fight for the gold, with Canada (usually) coming out on top after a tough battle with Team USA.

While it was sad to see our athletes take third, it was exciting to realize that women’s hockey has grown enough that other nations can vie for higher medals. We should have been prepared for the “Damkronorna” (“Lady Crowns;” the Swedish women’s team)– they took the bronze over Finland in 2002.

For women’s Olympic hockey, the home team gets placed in the games if they like. This meant the Italian women’s hockey team played in 2006, in Torino. But this year, with the Olympics in Canada and that team clearly a medal contender, this frees up a spot for another country’s women’s hockey team to jump onto the national scene.

The main players return this year: Canada, the U.S., Sweden and Finland. Russia has made all three Games, though never placing higher than fourth (2002). Germany played in Salt Lake and Torino, but didn’t make the games this year. Kazakhstan was in Salt Lake but hasn’t played since; China missed the 2006 games but is back for Vancouver. The last two spots are taken by Switzerland and Slovakia, the former returning after placing seventh in Torino, the latter making their Olympic debut (does Marion G have a sister??).

I’m super psyched and the Canadians are too–as well as the embassy staff members from different countries. Check out [url=http://www.cbc.ca/politics/insidepolitics/2010/02/puck-diplomacy-hockey-contender-embassies-ready-for-games-showdown.html]this neat article about how foreign nationals in Canada will be cheering for their teams.

My predictions for women’s hockey: Canada is solid and I think they’ll take gold again. The U.S. wants silver BAD after Torino and I think they’re likely to get it. Winning a silver in Torino really elevated the profile of women’s hockey in Sweden, will it be enough to win another? Or will they end up fighting off Finland for the bronze?

[url=http://www.vancouver2010.com/olympic-hockey-schedule-results/]First games:
Feb. 13: Sweden vs. Switzerland at 4 p.m. and Canada vs. Slovakia at 9 p.m.
Feb. 14: U.S. vs. China at 4 p.m. and Finland vs. Russia at 8.30 p.m.