Monday, February 13, 2006

Women’s hockey blowouts; the blow back continues!

The Olympic Women’s hockey competition is quickly turning into more of a traveling road show than a bona fide world class competition. There’s Team Canada or Team USA as the Harlem Globetrotters and fill in your anxious opponent, as the Washington Generals. And that has more than a few people wondering if perhaps, this is not a sport a little ahead of itself as far as an Olympic sport may go.

Over the weekend the Canadian women’s team scored 28 goals over 120 minutes of play, giving up none and received more than a few terse e mails about piling on the misery.

Before anyone jumps to the keyboard to add their outrage, keep in mind that the goals differential is a key ingredient in Olympic hockey. So as bad as it may look to lay a 16-0 licking on the amiable hosts of these Olympics, there’s no real guarantee that the Canadian arch rival the USA doesn’t likewise ring up the points in their games. Who want's to lose a Gold Medal by one goal, it would be a hard thing to swallow at the medal ceremony.

Perhaps a mercy rule should be placed in effect in these competitions, but somehow the actual entertainment value gets lost after the ten goal point, if not before.

Which brings us to the question of the competition thus far (at least until Wayne’s rolling road show hits Torino tomorrow) should Women’s hockey be part of the Olympic Games.

There are really only two nations at the moment, that seem capable of putting together anything resembling a solid core of athletes able to skate shoot and pass all in the same stride. Many of the other nations competing so far are hard pressed to manage to get across their own blue line, yet find their way into the opposition’s zone.

With Canada and the USA apparently destined for the Gold Medal game before the first puck drop, what is to become of the teams from Finland and Sweden who seem destined to perpetually battle for the bronze and happy to be there's, then what of Russia, Switzerland, Germany and Italy who seem to have a fair amount of work ahead before their women’s program is ready for prime time.

All day the sports talk shows across the country discussed the merits of keeping the women’s program as part of the Olympic Games, or perhaps putting it into a holding pattern until the level of international competition is on a bit more competitive level. Suggestions to solve the problems were heard today included a ten goal maximum, or lending of back up goaltenders to try and stem the flow of unwanted offense. It’s not an easy call, the idea of sport is that the best will prosper and move on, but in the early days of the women’s competition it hasn’t been a particularly entertaining brand of hockey being showcased.

In the past the IOC has suspended or ended a sports involvement in the games, softball and baseball are the two most recent examples and they were more competitive than the hockey at the moment. This is where the suggestions that women's hockey may find itself on the outside looking in soon.

With Vancouver hosting the 2010 Olympics, it’s doubtful that Canada would be in favour of banishing the sport from the Olympic lineup before the next Olympics. Same probably goes for the USA. So most likely we’ll still have the ladies on the ice in four years time.

Hopefully, the IOC and IIHF have figured out a way to reduce the embarrassing situation of having to run up a score on a hapless opponent, one of the key ingredients of sport is the concept of sportsmanship. It’s hard to exhibit much of that when the rules dictate that the strongest will survive only if they pile on the points.

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