I love the Winter Olympics. It’s pretty much the only time I get to watch women’s hockey at the highest level, as the World Championships are so rarely shown on the television and there is no CWHL team in my part of the country (here’s hoping!). From the perspective of a recreational goalie, here are four of my favourite observations from the 2014 Sochi Women’s hockey tournament.
- Medal Round Action
Best. Games. Ever. Both of the medal games in Sochi had dramatic third period twists, with both Canada and the Swiss coming from behind to claim gold and bronze, respectively. This was edge of your seat hockey, and a great reminder to play until the final whistle. As a Canadian, the gold medal game was extra special for me. I live in Vancouver and was privileged to have been right in the middle of the celebrations of Sidney Crosby’s “Golden Goal.” And now, four years later, I was able to have the same experience, this time cheering on the women’s team after Marie Philip Poulin’s “Golden Goal II”.
2. Great Goaltending
I play goal, so I guess it’s only natural that I’d pay special attention to the goalies in the tournament. Noora Raty and Florence Schelling in particular were outstanding during these games. Schelling put in an unreal 64 save performance to open the games, and Raty was nearly giving me heart attacks during Finland’s round robin matchup against Canada. If you were looking for the best goalies in the world of women’s hockey, no one needed to look further than these two European puckstoppers. I, for one, will miss seeing Noora Raty play – she has already cemented her place among the greatest female goalies of all time, but it is hard to see her have to leave the game she loves. And what more can be said about Shannon Szabados? She followed up a brilliant final in Vancouver with an unbelievable performance in the gold medal game in Sochi. In the simple statement of Cassie Campbell during the medal presentation, she was “crazy good.”
3. Women’s hockey arrives on the world stage
I’ve watched and followed women’s hockey at four Olympics now, and I am very encouraged by the attention that was focused on this year’s tournament. Some of my coworkers who had no interest in hockey were getting wrapped up in the excitement. On my drive home on February 20, I saw jubilant fans in Canada jerseys celebrating a women’s hockey gold medal on the streets and drivers honking horns and cheering 5 hours after the game ended. I hadn’t seen that before, even during the Vancouver games. Women’s hockey has come a long way, even in my short time in the sport. Many people have fought hard and long to bring the female game to mainstream relevance and these games are a great step forward.
4. The Legends
I watched the medal presentation with mixed emotions. Alongside the exciting new stars of the game, some of the women being presented with medals were the heroes I grew up watching in my early days; Julie Chu, Caroline Ouellette, Jayna Hefford, and Hayley Wickenheiser. Most likely these were their last Olympics. Women’s hockey is where it is now because of the hard work and effort of these great stars. Ladies, I salute you. It’s been a wonderful ride and I’ve enjoyed every minute of it. You are the players who inspired a generation of girls to play this wonderful game. Next stop, Hockey Hall of Fame.
As a post script, the biggest reason the Olympics are special to me is that I would have never taken up the sport without seeing them. I was 12 in 2002 during the Salt Lake games, when I first saw women’s hockey and began following it. Following the Vancouver 2010 games in my hometown I finally started playing and living out my dream of playing the greatest game on earth. I once dreamed of playing for Team Canada, but its good enough for me to watch 21 dedicated people live out their dream on the international stage. I’m content to wear my #29 Poulin jersey and cheer them on – and I can’t wait for the 2018 Games in South Korea, where new memories will be made.