Is the gap closing in women’s hockey?
Canada and U.S.A. still dominate, but other countries can catch up
People often inquire about the state of women’s hockey on the international stage, and discuss the “gap” in the game.
There was quite a bit of media coverage following the Vancouver Games on this topic. Jacques Rogge, International Olympic Committee president at the time, expressed his concern over the small number of countries that were competitive for the gold medal.
When I was competing on the international stage, I was often asked about the game and its future. I continue to discuss this topic as I work within the game.
I do believe that the gap is closing in women’s hockey. It might not be closing at the pace that some would like it to, but it is happening.
The pace is slow because while many countries are improving in the sport, so too are the teams from Canada and the U.S.A.
Measuring the gap
If you imagine the “gap” in women’s hockey on a vertical scale, Canada and the U.S.A. would be at the top. Other countries around the world are getting better and moving upward on the scale. At the same time, Canada and the U.S.A. are inching higher, which makes it even tougher for the other countries to catch up.
As a player, it was essential to continue to elevate your play every year. I have always said that the young athletes who make the Canadian national team today are far more talented than I was as a rookie making my first team in 1998. As I stayed within the program, every player needed to push themselves to the next level. We were motivated to be our best and elevate our play. This was key, because the talent and the skill level within our country continued to improve.
This is something that people from Canada and the U.S.A. should be proud of. Their athletes have been driven and inspired to be the best in the world. These athletes want to be the best, and have been doing an impressive job of maintaining a gap. The slow pace by which it is closing is related to the determination of the athletes that compete within the top two nations.
There are also examples of other countries that have shown strong play as they move up the scale toward the most competitive nations. At the Olympics in 2006, Team Sweden won a silver medal, as they upset team U.S.A. in the semifinal.
At the recent 4 Nations Cup in 2013, Team Finland won the silver medal. At that very same 4 Nations tournament, Canada had a very competitive game against Sweden and the team was forced to come from behind to earn the victory. Russia won the bronze medal at the World Championships in 2013 as they prepared to host the Olympics. Switzerland has also been a top three team in recent years.
Other countries inching higher
While Canada and the U.S.A. remain the top two teams in the sport, the teams that are ranked from third to sixth in the world are very close. The teams ranked seventh through 12th are also very competitive. Japan’s women’s team has qualified for the Olympics for the first time this year. The only other Games they competed in was their host Games in 1998.
I believe that patience is important for the women’s game.
The 1998 Olympic year was a significant turning point for women’s hockey in Canada and the U.S.A. The growth of the game in these countries has been tremendous since the inclusion of the sport in the Olympics. The exposure of women’s hockey at the Olympics has helped grow the game at the grassroots level in North America.
Other countries have the potential to experience this same dramatic growth. The top two countries in the world currently have the largest number of registrants in the women’s game. Their strong grassroots programs create more strength and depth at the national team level.
It’s difficult to anticipate the exact timing, but the same potential for the growth of the game can happen for other countries.