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Sochi notes: Women’s hockey tourney has an interesting format

Feb 6, 2014, 3:49 AM EDT

USOC Media Summit Getty Images

Hey, have you missed me? You didn’t even notice I was gone, did you. Sigh. Well, I’ve been in Sochi for a few days now. I’ll be here until the end of the Olympics, which will culminate with the men’s gold-medal game on Feb. 23. I’m hoping I can pop in here from time to time and share a few offhand thoughts on the hockey, and just being in Russia. Otherwise I’ll be writing stories that appear on both PHT and NBCOlympics.com, or in some cases just NBCOlympics.com.

OK, onto my first list of notes:

—- Full disclosure: I’d never covered international women’s hockey until I came to Sochi, and I hadn’t really followed it since the 2010 Games in Vancouver. Like most hockey fans, I knew the basics – Canada and the United States are really good, everyone else is trying to catch up – but it’s not easy to parachute in (figuratively speaking; they have an airport and everything here) and start asking questions. Not good ones, at least. Fortunately, the American and Canadian players/coaches/management have all been super friendly and open during the media availabilities I’ve attended. I guess they know it’s important to promote their sport during the Olympics, which is really the only time there’s a significant media contingent on hand to cover it.

—- They’ve got an interesting format to the women’s tourney this year. In the preliminary round, the top four ranked teams — Canada, U.S., Switzerland, and Finland – will play each other – and the bottom four teams – Sweden, Japan, Russia, and Germany – will play each other. After that, the top two teams from the first group (probably the U.S. and Canada) will advance to the semis while the bottom two teams from the first group will play off against the top two teams from the second group for the other two spots in the semis. Got it? Good. A couple of reasons I figure they’re doing this. 1. They want to guarantee at least one game between Canada and the U.S. 2. They don’t want the blowouts we saw in 2010, like Canada 18, Slovakia 0 or the U.S. 13, Russia 0. Blowouts aren’t fun to watch, and they only shine a spotlight on the disparity between the top and bottom teams. I believe there’s genuine concern that women’s hockey will be removed from the Olympics if the rest of the world doesn’t start catching up to the two powerhouses.

—- I watched the U.S. and German women scrimmage earlier this week, and the disparity was vast. You could see it right off the bat in the warm-ups. On one side, the Americans were ripping shots crossbar and in; on the other, the Germans were — and I’m not trying to be mean here — basically floating theirs. They didn’t keep score in the scrimmage, but I can tell you it wasn’t close and the Americans ended with a really high Corsi rating.

—- I don’t want to say U.S. star Amanda Kessel (sister of Phil) waffled when asked if she was back to game shape after skipping the pre-Olympic tour to manage an injured hip (which required surgery in 2012), but she definitely didn’t give a resounding yes. “Getting there” was how she put it. “Decent.” She did look pretty good in the scrimmage though, and coach Katey Stone said later she was “100 percent.”

—- I wrote on Wednesday about new Canadian coach Kevin Dineen’s decision to take the captaincy away from women’s hockey legend Hayley Wickenheiser and give it to Caroline Ouellette. The more I think about it, the more I wonder just what was going on with this team last year. Remember that Dineen only replaced coach Dan Church in December after the latter abruptly resigned. So that’s a coaching change and a captaincy change right before the biggest tournament in women’s hockey, which only occurs once every four years. Clearly Dineen felt the team needed a shakeup, and I guess you have to give him credit for making a tough move he believed in, because it would’ve been a lot easier to just go with the status quo. I’ll still be surprised if it’s anyone but Canada and the U.S. in the final game, but the U.S. sure does seem like it has a great chance to snap Canada’s streak of three straight gold medals. And of the two favorites, if one is going to get upset by another country, I’d have to bet it’s going to be Canada.

—- I’m sure you’ve all heard the stories of reporters and their unfinished hotel rooms. Well, mine is just fine, thanks. I did, however, have a panic the other morning that I’d lost my wallet. Fortunately, it was right there in my pocket the whole time, but I was sweating it big time for a bit. I just can’t imagine the hassle of trying to replace all the credit cards and other stuff in my wallet while in Russia. You may be wondering, how could I possibly think I’d lost my wallet when it was in my pocket? Good question. Best I can explain is my whole pockets routine has been thrown off over here. Usually I keep three things in my pockets – wallet, keys, phone. Same three things every day. Over here, it’s totally different. I have my own phone and a temporary local phone, and I don’t always take my wallet with me, plus I’ve got credentials hanging around my neck and sometimes I carry a little digital recorder and everyone’s speaking a bunch of different languages and I didn’t sleep for the first 36 hours I was here because I stayed up to watch the SEA-HAWKS! win the Super Bowl. You can see how a blogger’s pockets routine could get thrown off. I figure it’s a bit like North American hockey players having to adjust to the bigger international ice surface. I have no idea where my keys are, by the way.

I’ll leave you with one of the many pictures hanging in the hallways of the massive main press center here. Just the definition of old school Olympics.

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  1. canucks30 - Feb 6, 2014 at 4:05 AM

    How are the amenities over in Mother Russia Brough?

    Anything like this:

    ?

  2. nothanksimdriving123 - Feb 6, 2014 at 4:38 AM

    I would not be surprised if a team other than the US or Canada wins the women’s gold. I’d be utterly, completely and thoroughly gobsmacked! From what I’ve seen and heard, I expect the US to beat Canada for the gold.

  3. agentdw - Feb 6, 2014 at 5:08 AM

    yeah dude. its the u.s. and canada, then everyone else in the womens, by ALOT…..but from what I’ve seen of the olympic trials between those two (usa/can), the usa is head and shoulders above canada even. but that is a HUGE rivalry between the two, so anything can happen obviously (think canadiens/bruins, hawks/canucks, red sox/yankees, michigan/ohio state football, etc) it is a BITTER and HEATED, BRUTAL rivalry, so even if the USA is looking like the cream of the crop, expect that game to be close as can be cuz IT COUNTS….will be a treat to watch. almost as much as the men’s tourney…

  4. lowenni - Feb 6, 2014 at 7:19 AM

    Sounds like a crooked tourney set up to me.

  5. raiderufan - Feb 6, 2014 at 7:42 AM

    I don’t know that I like that set up but I get it…Womens Hockey going the way of softball due to lack of true international competitors would be an absolute shame.

  6. crazemastercraze - Feb 6, 2014 at 8:10 AM

    Don’t care

    • jpelle82 - Feb 6, 2014 at 9:27 AM

      me either. unless they played games in their underwear you wont catch me tuning in to womens hockey. i’d rather watch curling

    • skr213 - Feb 6, 2014 at 3:45 PM

      Your loss. Women’s hockey is actually a blast to watch. No, obviously you don’t have the same hitting and physicality, but that’s made up for (in my mind at least) by a lot of serious skill and amazing skating ability.

  7. JoeAvg - Feb 6, 2014 at 9:51 AM

    Any Loonies in the ice?

    • nothanksimdriving123 - Feb 6, 2014 at 3:34 PM

      Not in Russia; perhaps a kopeck, but I doubt that will help their women’s team.

  8. therealjr - Feb 6, 2014 at 10:24 AM

    Let me be the one who says it: I don’t care about this. I hope this is the end of women’s hockey discussion on ‘PRO’ hockey talk.

    Furthermore, this is not like women’s tennis where the skill level is much closer to being on par with men – this is unwatchable. And those who want to hang their last hope on it being competitive – except for US playing Canada is it even that?

    • nothanksimdriving123 - Feb 6, 2014 at 3:45 PM

      If you look at the results of the men’s Olympic tournaments from before WWII, you will see it was pretty much all Canada and even more lopsided than the women’s now. But they had the patience to stick with it and the rest of the hockey nations caught up.
      But we all have different tastes, none right, none wrong, so enjoy what you like and we’ll enjoy what we like, OK?

  9. storminator16 - Feb 6, 2014 at 11:08 AM

    If don’t like women’s hockey, don’t post “I don’t care”. No one cares that you don’t care.

    • jpelle82 - Feb 6, 2014 at 11:31 AM

      do you “like” womens hockey? does anyone really? or is it just because its the olympics?

      • therealjr - Feb 6, 2014 at 12:24 PM

        Pretty sure there is a place for people that do care. It’s called Olympic Talk.

  10. jernster21 - Feb 6, 2014 at 2:29 PM

    “On one side, the Americans were ripping shots crossbar and in;”

    That’s what we like to call, bar down.

    • mnhockeydad - Feb 7, 2014 at 9:32 AM

      Cool. I learned a new -ism to hang on my girl friend. She is very comfortable now with top shelf.

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