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Sweden in Sotchi, To Be or Not To Be?

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The debate on whether or not the Swedish women’s national team will be cleared for next years Olympics in Sotchi by SOK (The Swedish Olympic Committee) has been raving over the last week during the 4-nation tournament in Lake Placid. There was a lot of critique due to poor results against USA losing 10-0 and 8-1, not really the best way to handle a difficult situation since Canada and USA are still giants within the world of women’s hockey and that’s a fact that won’t easily change overnight. So what’s with even considering not sending our women to the Olympics, even if Finland and Russia has raced past Sweden the difference is marginal, I would say there is a 1 in 3 chance they will conquer the bronze in Sotchi, and considering the chances other Swedish athletes have that’s a very good chance for a medal.

Error number one by SOK is saying Sweden is on a downward spriral getting worse for each year, that just isn’t the case. Between the 2006 Olympics where we miraculously snatched the silver medal from the US and the 2010 games in Vancouver a lot of the core in the Swedish national team retired and it was basically a new team playing, however saying we’ve gotten worse would be taking credit away from the teams that have excelled and gotten the resources to train harder, to play more together as a team and to evolve towards closing the gap to the North Americans. I felt no shame whatsoever about Sweden losing the bronze medal game to Finland, they played a better game and deserved to win, and I was very proud over our women pushing the Finns way into overtime. During the last 10 years there has always been close games with our neighbors in the east and what would the rivalry be without it, the difference can easily be compared to the rivalry between Canada and the US. And even if Sweden had a tough time at the world championships last season it was great to see the Swiss claim the bronze medal over Finland, not that they were the better team but for the diversity of the sport, to get more teams involved in the medal race is a positive thing and seeing the SOK indecisiveness just sends the wrong message to all our young girls fighting to one day get to play for the national team.
Encourage them instead, every team can play a bad tournament and suddenly the goalie of the underdog is just impossible to get by, Kim Martin-Hasson has done it several times especially during the Olympics of ’02 and ’06, Florence Schelling was terrific when Switzerland got their bronze medal as well as Minnesota graduate Noora Raty has performed on the international scene, in the ’10 Olympics and just amazing this last friday when she stopped a bombardment clinching a rare victory over USA. Most of the time Goliath pumbles David to a pulp, but on those rare occasions the underdog wins, a shame really it’s only noticeable in the big olympic games.

Another thing to consider about not sending the Swedes to Sotchi is they will be removed from the main World Championship group, yet another way to discourage young girls from fighting to get ahead in the sport, especially now that Sweden will host the 2015 World Championships. Who will fight for playing in Division 1A when the team is ranked top 5 in the world? Can you old and stubborn people in the SOK just get with the time we are living in, the women’s hockey world today is as evolved as men’s hockey was back in the 50′s-60′s if even that. And the same old argument comparing men and women just keeps coming back, yes a women’s hockey team would not be able to beat a men’s team on the same level but that’s hardly the point, what we’re talking about here is entertainment value and that’s something that I personally consider being better in the women’s game. Sure there’s not allowed to right out tackle each other to pieces but the intensity is there and without the option of taking out players physically the skill level with the stick increases, that being said I can’t even count the number of brilliant plays I’ve seen over the years. To see a game between USA and Canada, North Dakota vs. Minnesota, Norway vs. Denmark or why not Swedish top teams like Modo and Linköping facing off, it just doesn’t get any more exciting than those evenly matched games. I could feel the adrenaline pumping all away across the ocean sitting at home watching Sweden face Canada last friday, and when Sweden scored first it was a magical feeling, felt like we were invincible and still leading 3-2 before the last period despite being crushed playwise, but never underestimate the value of playing good D and having a terrific last outpost (for this game Valentina Wallner). Sure reality came back in the last period and Canada won fairly 4-3 but still there was hope all the way and it’s not impossible the scenario will be the same come February.

Next point is the terrifying thing of reading what people comment on the articles about the national team losing, about them not being good enough for the Olympics and so on. Many people consider our girls an embarassment for Sweden, I mean where is your national pride? Everyone has to start from somewhere, it’s not realistic to expect we will be as good as Canada who has more registered women’s hockey players than we have men playing in Sweden, also Canada has a tradition of taking great pride in their men as well as their women playing the national sport and with pride comes the will to give them the support needed to win. Just imagine how far behind we actually are, a fantastic hockey nation like Canada and they don’t have a professional hockey league where their top players get paid however seeing they can spend almost a year together before the Olympics preparing sets them way ahead of Sweden who will play together at 6 different occasions in their preparations.
Not really difficult to see why Russia has passed Sweden over the last year or two, they are the only ones who can boast with a national league where the players get paid and it shows they want to be able to compete for the gold as hosts, I only wish we could get the same resources. With access to the same type of training going on in North America and Russia, Sweden and Finland would reach a competetive level for a gold medal within 10 years, as it stands now maybe we’ll be there in 20 years?

My thoughts are that the revolution must start from the top to have a quick impact on women’s hockey as a whole. If the NHL would take the lead in starting up a post-college professional lead it would put a huge spotlight on the game we are fighting for and send a message to clubs all over the world, they do have the resources to put such an idea into action and it would be groundbreaking. I can just imagine how many great players end their careers after college, just seeing the few average-level players who crosses the ocean to play in Sweden, Finland, Switzerland or Germany for example shows how easily a let’s say 20 team professional league could be possible. I would also plead to all top level clubs in Europe to support their local women’s teams, get them a commercial spot during your games, make sure they have the opportunity to train on humane hours and feel proud about having women representing your emblem. Of the 12 SHL clubs in Sweden, 7 has a women’s team in the two highest tiers of our leagues but still prejudice from the audience makes it hard to get people to even give women’s hockey a chance, it’s sad really since most people who I’ve convinced to go and watch a game has had practically nothing but good things to say about it. “Wow these girls are really good”, “I didn’t realize it could be so fun to watch” and so on, you get my point.
I can’t really blame people who base their opinions on what they see and read in the media since most of what is ever said about women’s hockey in Sweden is bad stuff. “Colossal loss for Sweden against USA”, “Sweden close to being relegated from the World Championships”, “Kim Martin about her previous eating disorder”, “Valentina collapsed during a game in Riksserien”, where is the mention about last month when Sweden won over Finland? Where are the results from all the great games in the Swedish elite league? Closing mid-November now and the last article about our top league Riksserien was in April when AIK won the championship title, that’s just ridiculous. A lot of great stuff are happening all over the country but it hardly ever makes it in to the paper, never on a positive note at least. The truth is media is one of the greatest adversaries our Swedish women has, sure facing USA and Canada is tough but at least that build experience and strength, media keeps tearing the players down as soon as they feel any kind of success.

The way to build the future is together so let’s keep fighting the good fight to get our women the resources to train and compete as they deserve. Most players have a short career compared to their male counterparts so they should get the opportunity to give all they’ve got during that time!
My biggest reason to fight for the women is the reward of getting to see them play the sport just for the love of playing and to all of you who don’t want to see them play, keep clear and stop throwing your medieval propaganda at them!

Mats

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