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Upset could restore women’s hockey luster

February 16, 2006

By Alan Crosby

TURIN (Reuters) – Canada and the United States will look to
set up a gold medal rematch at the women’s ice hockey
semi-finals on Friday, but an upset could restore some luster
to an Olympic tournament tarnished a huge competition gap.

Looking to play the role of spoiler are the Nordic nations
of Sweden and Finland, but it will be a tough order to fill
since neither North American team has ever lost in Olympic
play, except to each other.

“Everyone on this team believes we can win tomorrow,” said
Swedish goalie Kim Martin.

The U.S. play Sweden at the Palasport Olimpico in the first
semi-final, and are looking to put behind a shaky performance
against the Finns on Tuesday that saw them in the unfamiliar
position of trailing going into the third period.

Canada have suffered no such scare, piling up 36 goals in
three preliminary group matches while surrendering only one.
But they are taking nothing for granted in the second
semi-final against the Finns.

“They (Finland) played a great game against the U.S. and we
have to get off to a quick start. Finland is always a problem
with their speed and scoring ability,” said Canada’s Hayley
Wickenheiser.

Martin could be the one player to make the difference
against the U.S.

She was outstanding in holding Canada to just two goals in
a pre-Olympic warm-up, but did not play when the two teams met
earlier this week at the Games due to a minor knee injury that
she decided to rest ahead of the semi-finals.

UPSET NEEDED

And an upset is just what the sport needs.

Women’s hockey has come under the spotlight for a plethora
of slaughters that make a Canada-U.S. final seem pre-ordained.

Indeed, in 1998 the American’s took gold in a finals win
against Canada, only to see the tables turned four years later
in Salt Lake City.

Just prior to the start of the Games, International Olympic
Committee members voted to end softball and baseball
competitions at the Summer Olympics, in part because due to a
lack of competitive fields.

The uneven skill level has put the International Ice Hockey
Federation officials on the defensive, but they remain resolute
that the women belong at the Games despite a huge gap in the
competition.

“Finland, Sweden, Russia and Germany must be given the same
fair chance to catch up as their counterparts in the men’s game
were given 80 years ago,” said IIHF media chief Szymon
Szemberg.


Source: reuters



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