As she stepped onto the ice at UBC Thunderbird arena tonight, one Swiss player made the sign of the cross. No doubt, it was for luck—athletes are notoriously superstitious—but in the wake of Canada’s historic 18-0 slaughter of Slovakia yesterday, it took on a special significance.
In the end, Canada railroaded the Swiss: a 10-1 triumph which gives them a pass to the semi-finals, Feb 22, at Canada Hockey Place (first, they’ll play a final preliminary round game against Sweden, Feb. 17).
Over the past two days, both Canada, and Team USA—which, yesterday at Thunderbird arena, creamed China 12-0—have fielded hundreds of questions about mercy, class, and even whether women’s hockey should remain an Olympic sport.
Coach Mel Davidson came on strong after the game today, telling reporters that her team had been called both “classless,” and “disrespectful,” adding that it’s “definitely hard” on her players, who have heard about it in the media. “They care about the game, and what Canada and the world thinks about them,” she said.
Davidson says she routinely sees routs in lower-level men’s games without hearing any complaints. At the World Junior Hockey Championship in Saskatchewan over Christmas, for example, Canada beat Latvia 16-0. Team USA defeated the same team 12-1. In its first three games there, Canada outscored the opposition 30-2. “Seems like there’s a lot more patience on one side of the puck,” says Davidson.
Still, after the U.S.’s lopsided win over China, several U.S. players were asked whether women’s hockey should remain an Olympic sport at all. Team USA captain Natalie Darwitz called it “a delicate topic,” and said “there very well could be” a risk of losing women’s hockey in the Olympics. “It would be very unfortunate,” said Darwitz, a forward. “This is all we have. This is our NHL, this is our Stanley Cup playoffs—two weeks of us getting attention.”
“Just give us some time,” added U.S. veteran Angela Ruggiero. “You can’t expect whole nations to adopt a sport over night.” She noted the U.S. had just 5,000 registered women’s hockey players in 1990, and has 60,000 today. Other countries could see a similar leap if national federations continue to support the sport. (China, with more than 650 million women, has fewer than 500 registered female hockey players; Slovakia has fewer than 300.)
“Hopefully, there can be other countries that understand they have to put resources in their programs, said Canada’s Caroline Ouelette.
“We have a $250,000 budget—Canada has $3.5-million,” Swiss captain Kathrin Lehmann told Maclean’s after the game. Canada has “80,000 skaters—we have 800.”
Chinese coach Hanna Saintula, a Finn who communicates with his Chinese players in what he calls “basic hockey English,” said he figures it will take at least two years for China to compete against the U.S. and two-time gold-medalist, Canada, which, in Olympic play so far, has an aggregate score of 127-19.
So why do Canada and the U.S. keep running up the score? “The goal differential is secondary,” says Davidson. “It’s more about playing your best. We didn’t come here to put on a second-class show. We came to win five hockey games.”
“These games are prepping us to play a full 60 minutes,” added Canada’s Cherie Piper. “You can’t take these games for granted.”