Women's game provides best moment of Olympic hockey competition
Marie-Philip Poulin's heroics boost for sport
So much talk the first week of the Winter Games centred on women’s hockey and if should it continue as an Olympic sport. By the end of the Games, however, it was a women’s hockey game that left the most lasting impression thanks to an amazing comeback.
The gold medal match in women’s hockey was a game for the ages. With time winding down in regulation, Team USA appeared to have the gold medal captured with its 2-0 lead, but Canada’s determination and perseverance was not to be denied.
Two goals inside the final four minutes shot the game into overtime and then Canada completed its own little miracle on ice when Marie-Philip Poulin scored her second-straight gold medal winning goal.
And just like that, women’s hockey had a much higher level of acceptance. Will that game, as exciting as it was, influence a new generation of young ladies to suddenly take up the sport of hockey on a global level? Probably not.
Is women’s hockey, the only sport in the Olympic Games where the gold medal match-up is decidedly predictable? Definitely not.
The point is, while Canada and the United States are the favourites to win the gold medal in women’s hockey, the other hockey-playing nations are improving; not quite to the point of being serious contenders to win it all, but good enough to throw a scare into the favourites.
And good enough to force the favourites to be at their best. It was a magical moment for the Canadian women. It was a heartbreaking loss for the Americans.
And at the end of the day it was a win for women’s hockey which, compared to the men’s game, is still in its infancy.
Take women’s hockey out of the Olympic Games? Yeah, right.
Low-scoring men's games
The men’s tournament was far less predictable but not nearly as exciting. Maybe it was the number of key offensive players that were injured that took some of the shine off the event.
Or maybe it was the defensive nature of the games. There were 11 shutouts in the tournament and five of those were 1-0 games.
Sweden made it to the gold medal game despite the loss of stars Henrik Sedin, Johan Fransen and Henrik Zetterberg. Its chances of winning gold were further hampered when Nicklas Backstrom missed the final game with a migraine headache.
Canada had trouble scoring throughout the tournament and certainly missed the presence of sniper Steven Stamkos who tried his best to make it back from a broken leg, but ultimately was unable to participate.
Canada may not have been the most exciting team in the men’s tournament, but it was most thorough. The emphasis was on defence. To play six games and only allow three goals is remarkable and the major reason why it won gold.
The players expected to spark the team with goals didn’t come through, but the commitment to keeping the puck out of the net was overwhelming.
Canada’s goaltending was very good and its team defence was even better. It has been said time and time again and it is true: Defence wins championships.
The host Russians succumbed to the pressure of trying to win gold at home and didn’t even make it to the final four.
T.J. Oshie earned fame in USA-Russia shootout
The most lasting memory of the men’s tournament is Team USA’s T.J. Oshie’s one-man show in the shootout against Russia in the preliminary round. The St. Louis Blues star shot six times and scored four times as the Americans won 3-2.
With the conclusion of the women’s and men’s hockey tournaments, it brings to an end the Olympic careers of two of the game’s greatest players: Hayley Wickenheiser of Canada and Teemu Selanne of Finland.
There was some speculation Wickenheiser might not even make Canada’s squad and she had the captaincy taken away from her. However, playing in her fifth Winter Olympics, Wickenheiser was a heart and soul player who contributed mightily to her team’s gold medal victory.
Selanne went out on a high scoring two goals to lead Finland to a 5-0 win in the bronze medal game. He was named most valuable player of the tournament. The classy Finnish captain played in six Olympic Games winning a silver medal and three bronze medals.