Sunday, 6 September 2009

Same Foe, Entirely Different Approach

The women's Hockey Canada Cup Tournament, featuring Canada, USA, Finland, and Sweden, is wrapping up tonight with the two teams that have dominated women's hockey in the last two decades playing for the gold medal. Canada will come in as the underdogs against the Americans at GM Place tonight after Team USA defeated Canada in the round-robin by a 4-2 score. Some might say that the round-robin means little, but the Americans are 5-2 in the last seven games against Canada, and that includes some fairly significant tournament wins.

The Americans advanced to the final after dispatching Finland by a 4-0 score. The Americans are young, fast, and aggressive. Megahn Duggan proved that on Saturday as she scored a hat trick in the win over Finland, and erased the earlier loss in the round-robin to the Scandinavian country. Jessie Vetter, the standout University of Wisconsin goaltender, stopped 19 shots in the shutout.

"I think we're making strides," U.S. coach Mark Johnson said to The Canadian Press. "When you're playing five games in seven days conditioning becomes a factor and we're in the early part of September and not the latter part of January."

The Americans have received excellent efforts from Gigi Martin, who set up all three of Duggan's goals in the semi-final, and Jenny Potter, who scored two against Canada in the round-robin. Only one player - the aforementioned Potter - was born in the 1970s, and Potter's 1979 birthday makes the 30 year-old the oldest player on the American roster. This young, speedy team will be a force to be reckoned with in February when the 2010 Winter Olympics open.

Their main rivals, Team Canada, is certainly older, but the experience that they carry may help them in the long run. Canada advanced to the Hockey Canada Cup by defeating Sweden by a 7-2 score in a scrum-filled game on Saturday night. A couple of impromptu meetings erupted at the end of the second and third periods that were close to being line brawls after all the players squared off.

The reason for the pushing and shoving? Canadian players took exception to Swedish assistant captain Danijela Rundqvist's piling on of defenceman Gilian Apps at the end of the second period, and the alleged slew-foot on Canadian forward Marie-Philip Poulin in the third period. However, cooler heads prevailed, no punches were thrown, and the Canadians skated to victory.

"We've seen that movie many times over the years with her in particular," Canadian Hayley Wickenheiser said of Rundqvist. "We talked as a team about playing with more grit and energy and emotion. We wanted to send a message that we're not to be pushed around or outdone in our own building."

Due to the scrums seen in Vancouver this week, there has been the question posed that perhaps women's hockey should begin to allow bodychecking. Or possibly how hitting would improve the officiating in women's hockey. I'm not here to debate this concept right now. I'm simply bringing it up. And I'd like to see what my readers have to say. I may tackle this discussion this week, but, for now, I want to know if you are a for or against hitting in women's hockey.

Back on track, the final kicks off in about five minutes. Canada plays the USA for the Hockey Canada Cup gold medal.

Finland, for those that are interested, won the bronze medal earlier in the day as they defeated Sweden by a 1-0 score, avenging an earlier 3-1 loss hung on them by their Scandinavian neighbours. Jenni Hiirikoski scored the only goal in the game on a powerplay midway through the second period, and Noora Raty stopped 23 shots she faced to preserve the bronze medal for Finland.

Good luck to both teams in the final, and GO CANADA GO!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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