It’s been four long years since the last women’s hockey tournament at the Olympics, but the wait is finally over with preliminary round games set to get underway Wednesday night in Beijing, China.
The event will feature ten teams divided into two groups of five. Group A includes Canada, Finland, the Russian Olympic Committee (ROC), Switzerland, and the defending champions from the United States. Meanwhile, Group B features the hosts from China, the Czech Republic, Denmark, who are making their maiden Olympic appearance, Japan, and Sweden. The games will be played at the National Indoor Stadium and the Wukesong Sports Centre.
The top four teams in each group at the conclusion of the round-robin stage will advance to the quarterfinals which are slated to be played on Feb. 11 and 12. The two medal games will be contested on Feb. 16.
Canada and USA Set to Renew Storied Rivalry
It’s no surprise that Canada and the USA are the heavy favourites to finish atop the podium yet again. The Americans are on a quest to repeat after capturing gold in South Korea in 2018 following a thrilling 3-2 shootout win which ended Canada’s remarkable run of four consecutive Olympic titles. During that span, they also put together a record-setting 24-game winning streak at the Games from 2002 to 2018. The victory in Pyeongchang began a run of dominance for the USA against their archrivals, a streak which was ended by the Canadians in August at the 2021 IIHF Women’s World Championship thanks to a 3-2 victory in the gold medal game after captain Marie-Philip Poulin scored the go-ahead goal in overtime.
The triumph gave Canada its 11th world title and their first since 2012 when Caroline Ouellette notched the winner in extra time to beat the USA. It was also the first time they went undefeated at the women’s worlds since 2007.
With the rivalry between the two countries reignited at just the right time, their matchups in Beijing promise to be as exciting as ever with many familiar names taking centre stage.
Fifteen players on this year’s American squad have Olympic experience, including the likes of Kendall Coyne Schofield, Brianna Decker, Amanda Kessel, and Hilary Knight who will be competing in her fourth Olympic Games. They will open on Thursday against Finland.
The Canadian team will feature 13 players who won silver in Pyeongchang four years ago, six who won gold in Sochi in 2014, and two gold medal winners from Vancouver in 2010. They will be led by Poulin, Mélodie Daoust, Brianne Jenner, and Natalie Spooner. Canada faces Switzerland out of the gate on Wednesday.
The two powerhouses will face off in the preliminary round on Feb. 7 in a likely preview of the gold medal game.
The Battle for Bronze
Barring an upset for the ages, it seems to be a foregone conclusion that Canada and the USA will fight for gold and silver in Beijing, but the competition for third place on the podium will certainly be compelling. It has been made more interesting by the fact that star Finnish goaltender Noora Räty will not be representing her country due to a rumoured feud with Finland’s head coach, Pasi Mustonen. She also missed the women’s worlds this summer.
Her absence opens the door for an underdog to take home a medal. Teams like ROC, who finished fourth in 2018, Sweden, Switzerland, led by rising star Alina Müller, and an upstart Japanese squad could challenge Finland before all is said and done.
History of Women’s Hockey at the Olympics
Women’s hockey made its Olympic debut in 1998 in Nagano, Japan and has been a fixture ever since. The first event featured six teams and has grown to include ten today.
Canadian legend Hayley Wickenheiser is the all-time leading scorer in tournament history. She also holds the record for most medals won with five a, alongside her compatriot Jayna Hefford. Seven other athletes have won four medals, including three Americans: Julie Chu, Jenny Potter, and Angela Ruggiero, a member of the Hockey Hall of Fame.
Women’s hockey continues to grow at an impressive rate around the world. In Beijing, a strong mix of both experienced veterans and fresh new faces who will be looking to write more Olympic history and propel their respective countries to new heights in the sport.
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Melissa has been covering the Montreal Canadiens for The Hockey Writers since March of 2020. She is also THW’s Social Media & Marketing Manager as well as co-host of Chicks & Sticks, a weekly show produced by THW. In 2006, she spearheaded the social media initiatives for Tennis Canada and Rogers Cup and was the primary person responsible for their upkeep for over 10 years. She has written articles for multiple tennis websites and interviewed the likes of Roger Federer and Serena Williams. While her career in sports started in tennis, her first love has always been hockey. She has a journalism degree from Concordia University.