Guest Author - Kevin Thorburn
The 2010 Winter Olympics are over and Canada and the United States battled for the gold medal in both menís and womenís ice hockey. The menís and womenís games are two completely different beasts and it will prove an interesting study to take a look at both and their relation to International hockey in general.
Interestingly, the results were the same for both genders: gold medal for Canada; silver for the United States; and bronze for Finland. This result was somewhat predictable with the women, barring lightning bolts raining from the sky, Canada and USA were going to meet in the final game. Finland has committed to improving their womenís game, so this is definitely an appropriate and encouraging result. Unfortunately, there is talk about eliminating womenís ice hockey from the Olympic games because of the domination of the sport by the Americans and Canadians.
Canada and the USA are so ridiculously evenly matched that it is a huge rivalry that other nations can only dream about being a part of at this stage and those two nations hate losing. This makes for some fantastic hockey that doesnít have the distraction the menís game has with their professional leagues.
Looking at the menís side of the sport the most important thing is the National Hockey League. This is where the best players earn their living and that comes before representing your country for events such as the Olympic games. Due to this, the Olympics are almost a distraction from reality, so to speak.
This affects the play in many ways. There is no time to form any sort of chemistry as a team, since very few of the players are teammates and the just arenít familiar with each otherís style of play. This was very evident with the Canadians as the San Jose Sharks players dominated in the early games.
Next, as long as you make it into the qualifying round, it comes down to a one game affair against each opponent where the winner stays and the loser goes home. When you have NHL calibre players, any team can beat any other team on any given night. Thatís the reason for best of seven series in the playoffs in most professional leagues. This was evident with the United States. Behind the strong play of their goaltender, they were able to defeat Canada in the preliminary round and earn an easier path to the gold medal game, whereas they really were not expected to medal in these games.
Now, there is a danger to the elite players in International hockey because when youíre playing lesser teams that have little chance of winning, there is nothing to deter them from taking cheap shots that could injure the star athletes.
To wind up, International hockey works fantastically for womenís ice hockey since that is basically the style they are accustomed to and it makes for tremendous play. On the other side, the men come into this type of game with little preparation and it does not compliment their play. Unfortunately, there is no easy fix.