By Bill Whitehead
When the thought of women’s Olympic hockey came up early Wednesday morning, I jumped at the opportunity. No hockey for a long time is really bad for the soul, and the chance to get a good taste of a heated rivalry like the USA against rival Canada was enticing. There’s pure, unadulterated hatred between the two clubs.
The game didn’t disappoint.
As an American, I was, of course, dismayed by the outcome. I thought the USA moved the puck around and possessed it better in the first period, but it took three outstanding saves by netminder Jessie Vetter to keep the game scoreless after one period. After trailing 1-0, feisty Team Canada played a stronger game and took advantage of a controversial second goal by Hayley Wickenheiser to pull ahead 2-1. Once the Canadians stretched it to 3-1, Team USA scored one and had a two-man advantage inside the last minute after Canada committed a minor for too many (wo)men on the ice, but the Yanks simply ran out of town.
It was a great win for Team Canada, and it was just Round 1. There’s a good chance these two clubs, who truly dislike one another, meet in the medal round, perhaps playing for gold. If that happens, I’d like the USA’s speed to outlast Canada’s tough physical play and come away the winner in the rematch.
Three observations from the game:
HELLO, OLD FRIEND – It was nice to see Kevin Dineen pop up again on my TV. I always found Dineen to be a personable chap during his tenure behind the Florida Panthers’ bench, and it’s great to see him have some success – even at the expense of Team USA. Dineen had to have been shocked to be on the winning side of Wickenheiser’s controversial/reviewable goal because he lost about 95 percent of those with Florida. That’s the good for Dineen. On the negative side, well, let’s just say we saw those too many men on the ice infractions way too often with Dineen as the Cats’ coach.
GREAT GAME, GREAT TIME – Watching the game reminded me of the World Junior Championships two years ago when Vincent Trochek and Rocco Grimaldi paced Team USA in the gold medal game over Sweden in the wee hours of the morning over here stateside. I can remember getting up at 3:59 a.m. for those 4:00 ET starts, making a pot of coffee and cheering on Vinnie and Rocco, who sounded like a pair of mobsters, with the house all to myself. Nothing quite like getting up way too early and enjoying some java and puck. It’s the same thing I do with the British Open golf tournament – just without the hockey.
GIRLS ROCK – If you haven’t been exposed to the women’s game, you’ll be surprised: These girls can play. Team USA is incredibly fast, and the skill level is quite high. Plus, they communicate well. In fact, certain NHL teams could learn to stay onside like these women who fly up and down the ice with their ponytails swishing around because they always seem to be on the same page, again communicating and playing well with one another, not making many mental errors or silly passes.
I don’t like the players being referred to as “ladies.” We don’t call the male members of the NHL “gentlemen” — ever. Maybe at the Lady Byng Trophy presentation, that’s about it. And I doubt all the things heard on the ice in Sochi would qualify as lady-like. But that’s a minor gripe.
When the NHL was locked out in the fall of 2012, I expanded my DirecTV package to include more sports in an effort to see more college hockey, especially the University of Minnesota for Nick Bjugstad and Kyle Rau, and North Dakota to watch Grimaldi play. What I didn’t get to see then or didn’t notice at the time was any of the women’s game.
That’s a shame – again — because these girls can play and it’s a fine quality of hockey.