The women’s Olympic hockey tournament has seemed like a marathon at times, but it has been a sprint for the teams involved. The 11-day celebration culminates tonight with a matchup between the sports two super-powers as the United States and Canada clash for the gold medal for the sixth time in Olympic history.
Going into the tournament, there was little question this would be the case. These two teams are the perennial contenders, whether a it’s World Championship is on the line, or the coveted 4Nations Cup, US vs Canada is as sure as death and taxes.
That’s not the whole story, though, and it seems like the crews covering the games are having a tough time providing a narrative that doesn’t diminish the accomplishments of these world-class athletes. To bring some amazing stories to the light, here are three things new fans should keep in mind as the gold medal game takes place tonight:
The battle doesn’t stop on the ice
We’re less than one year removed from a tense struggle for equality by the US women’s national team. After decades of mistreatment by USA Hockey, the women of the national team took a stand, and threatened to boycott the IIHF World Championships if their demands for better pay and living conditions weren’t met.
The fight went beyond the 40 or so women that comprised the national team at the time, though. USA Hockey, desperate to field a team, reached out to pros who hadn’t made the cut, NCAA athletes, and even players on the U18 squad. Each stood firmly with the national team. No one would cross the line. The message was clear. American women stood united in the face of an exploitive organization.
USA Hockey was forced to negotiate with the women’s team, and though there is still a substantial gap between the accommodations offered to the men, these incredible women demonstrated the power of unity, demanded progress, and won.
If you build it
History was made at this women’s tournament, time and time again. One reason that this tournament held a handful of surprises was the ability for many of the women to play professional hockey through the year.
Japan won its first AND second games ever, behind stellar performances from Nana Fujimoto, a former New York (now Metropolitan) Riveter of the NWHL. Leagues in North America and Europe, as well as teams in Asia are giving women the opportunity to not only play more hockey, but train at world-class facilities and learn from some of the best the world has to offer, such as the dozens of US and Canadian women who play in their respective leagues.
In addition, pro teams in China are cultivating a program to prepare the women for their turn at hosting the Olympics. North American stars like Kelli Stack, Emily Janiga, and Rachel Llanes (who will suit up for China in international play) are acting as hockey ambassadors, teaching the women the game at the highest level.
We are experiencing evolution
Slow down. Take it all in. Russia came within one goal of the bronze medal for the first time in tournament history, losing to Finland, who failed at bronze in 2014. Japan won two games. Swiss goaltender Florence Schelling is the winningest goaltender in women’s Olympic history. Switzerland placed fifth in the tournament, barely edging a surging Japanese team.
All of these narratives deserve deep dives from the coverage teams of these games. These are the types of stories that deserve to be told. There are a lot of people telling them, too; be sure to check out The Ice Garden and Pension Plan Puppets for fantastic coverage of everything women’s hockey.
The last gold medal game between the US and Canada had the highest ratings of an Olympic matchup ever. This iteration is set to be more intense, more impassioned, and more exuberant/heartbreaking. The US women have won every tournament since the 2014 loss in Sochi. Here’s to keeping streaks alive.