Mid-Week Link Round-Up: Reflections on the Olympics, looking forward to more women’s hockey!

  • Nicole Haase, of the SB Nation blog Bucky’s 5th Quarter, covering the Wisconsin Badgers in all their forms, wrote an interesting profile piece on Ilana Friedman, a goalie on the UW-Madison women’s hockey team. Friedman has been getting a lot of attention for being an out female athlete, but the more interesting thing I found in Haase’s article was Friedman’s perspective on her role as an agent of change, not only as an out player, but as a Badger and a woman playing college hockey. Also her attitude towards fan engagement with women’s college hockey, even as someone playing at a school with some of the top regular attendance numbers, was a nice bit of perspective for me, someone who is used to the level of engagement Minnesota brings to their Gophers.
  • Another piece on Team Japan, in the wake of the Olympics. Some stuff I hadn’t seen before about their assistant coach, Carla McLeod, and her work with the team. I’m not sure if McLeod is officially part of Hockey Canada and USA Hockey’s outreach work to the non-North American teams to help improve their training, but she may be a demonstration of how a national team can really use those resources to work on closing the gap in women’s hockey.
  • I’ve been seeing some interesting reports about how much the Olympic hockey was streamed this year. The New York Times has an article about the NBC streaming numbers, and the Globe and Mail has an article that touches on the record-setting numbers that the CBC was seeing for streaming hockey as well. This is really heartening to me to see. I’m really hoping that the adoption of the streaming medium can increase interest in more regular season women’s hockey, especially with the CWHL and some colleges already streaming coverage of some of their games.
  • Slllllightly off topic, but March 1st is USA Hockey’s “Try Hockey for Free” day. Part of USA Hockey’s efforts to grow the sport, kids can try hockey for free at a variety of locations– you can find more info here.
  • Many adult leagues ALSO have similar efforts– for example, the AHA, a Minnesota adult rec league local to me, has a try hockey day specifically aimed at women on March 1st. If you’re an adult in the US and at all interested in trying out hockey, I’d encourage you to do some Googling and see if your local league has anything similar.

We are only now having the heart to go read a lot of the gold medal game related articles, but we swear, we’re working on our retro of the Olympics. Our coverage of the CWHL streaming game on Sunday may be a bit spotty; one of us is traveling again on Sunday, and the other is working, but we’ll see what we can do.

CWHL Weekend Update: No Games This Weekend!

CWHL Weekend Update: No Games This Weekend!

Just a heads up, in case you don’t check the schedule until the last-minute, there are no CWHL games this weekend! Annnnd I haven’t got much for info related to the CWHL; everyone’s been focused on the Olympics and the Continuing State of Women’s Hockey.

Speaking of the Olympics, expect a break down of the medal games in the next couple days; we’re working on it, but we’re also working through some epic feelings hangovers. Enjoy the rest of the Olympics, the CWHL will return February 28th.

Mid-Week Link Round Up: Still mostly people being upset about women’s hockey.

I know, I know, very surprising.

  • The Pink Puck did an article about what Noora Räty’s retirement from women’s hockey means for the sport. Now, either you’ve already read this, because it’s been linked from hell and back again, or you skipped it because you went “oh, another annoying article that will either enrage me or make me otherwise upset.If you’re in the later category like I was, I’d encourage you to give it a shot and read it. It’s probably not going to have anything new per se in it, but it does have an attitude I find generally lacking around discussions like this, and that is that women’s hockey is not men’s hockey and shouldn’t ever have to be.Look, I’ve done it too, I’ve joked about how the Wild should get Räty a try-out, because after all we have A Goalie Situation and we love our Gophers– but that doesn’t solve the actual issue, which is that women shouldn’t have to play in men’s leagues to be respected as good players.
  • The Globe and Mail did a profile piece about Shannon Szabados and Carey Price, the starting goaltenders for the Canadian women’s team and the Canadian men’s team respectively, and how they both started out as teenagers trying out for the WHL’s Tri-City Americans. It’s not a rare story, but it had some background I hadn’t heard before, including the following from Bob Tory, the Tri-City GM who was responsible for her WHL tryout.

“I’ve had players on my team, boys, named Shannon, so I didn’t know I was watching a girl – and she was outstanding,” Tory recalled. “It was only after the game, when she got selected game star, I knew it was a girl.

  • You’ve probably seen this, because it EXPLODED across Twitter, but the IIHF President Rene Fesel has said women’s hockey will never be removed from the Olympics. Probably won’t shut people up from arguing it should or shouldn’t be, but yanno, that’s the joy of the internet.
  • Clare over at the Puckologist talked about women as invisible sports fans. That’s not just an issue in men’s sports, like the NHL, but is, as Clare points out, generally the first stumbling block to discussing seriously how to market women’s sports.
  • I haven’t seen this anywhere else that’s not sourcing off this, which could be a language barrier thing, or could be something else, but apparently the Finnish National team’s head coach, Mika Pieniniemi, is retiring after just one year in the position. The rest of the recap of the Finland/Russia game is interesting on its own, but what I found interesting was the quote from the Russian head coach, Mikhail Chekhanov, who said:

    “I’m not sure whether it was a back forward or backward, but at least we managed to reshape the team so it can play offensively. We did a step for the future, and we managed to close the gap against teams like Finland and Sweden.”

    I found this interesting because Russia has been the team that, so far, has had the best Corsi besides Canada and the US. We’ve got some plans to run the numbers after the Olympics, see what pops out with more data and analysis and ideally having run some numbers from Worlds, but that in itself is interesting. (How many more times can I say “interesting”, WHO KNOWS)

CWHL Weekend Round Up: Montreal Stars sweep the Toronto Furies for the weekend series.

CWHL Weekend Round Up: Montreal Stars sweep the Toronto Furies for the weekend series.

These were the rescheduled games from the Toronto-area ice storm earlier this winter, so there were no streaming games this weekend.

Saturday’s game went to Montreal, 5-4, with a late third period power play goal by Montreal finishing it in regulation.

Emmanuelle Blais was a strong presence for Montreal, scoring two of the five goals and assisting on a third. She was also named the second star of the game. She’s a somewhat inconsistent points producer for the Stars– she has 14 points in 20 games this season, her second with the CWHL, but they come in clumps of threes and fours, generally in blowout wins for Montreal against Brampton, one of the weaker teams in the league. I wish I had her time on ice stats for these games; she’s clearly getting played, and often in other games her points are coming with top line players like Ann-Sophie Bettez. I’m going to have to watch for her more closely in future streaming games, try to figure out if this is a usage thing, or a reflection on her skill.

Speaking of Bettez, she was strangely absent from this game’s scorecard with only one assist, unusually for a player who has been very, very consistent in putting up points for Montreal. She’s currently the league-leader in goals, and is tied for league leader in assists. She took one slashing minor, but otherwise was off the game card. Bettez was even a minus-1 +/-, which isn’t often the most indicative stat, but the minus is unusual for Bettez.

Casandra Dupuis and Mariève Provost, players who, like Blais, I generally think of as Montreal’s second line scoring, also showed up big in this game. Dupuis picked up two goals and an assist, while Provost picked up three assists. Vanessa Davidson picked up the late third period goal to win it for Montreal, and picked up the first star of the game.

Alyssa Baldin was a strong force for Toronto this game, picking up two of their four goals, and scoring an assist for three points. She also picked up third star of the game. Baldin has generally been very good for Toronto, picked up by them in the fifth round of the 2013 CWHL draft. She’s currently second in points for Toronto with 20 points in 18 games, behind Carolyne Prevost.

The Sunday game was also a win for Montreal, and again was a tight game decided by a last-minute goal by Montreal. This game ended 4-3 Montreal.

Gratifyingly, Bettez was more of a presence for Montreal this game, with a goal and an assist. Her goal at 18:22 in the third was the game winner for Montreal. Cathy Chartrand and Noémie Marin also picked up two points each, Marin with a goal and an assist and Chartrand with two assists. Marin, despite only being back for Montreal since the February 8th game this year, has historically been a big scorer for Montreal, including the 2011/2012 season when she finished in the top five scorers for the league. Hopefully we’ll start seeing her on the score-sheet for Montreal more. Not sure why she was gone or she’s back now, although I believe she’s lost time to injury before.

Catherin Herron also came up big for Montreal, stopping 22 of 25 shots. Her current save percentage is .911 over 15 games.

Toronto’s points leaders were Katie Wilson and Shannon Moulson. Wilson, a forward, had three assists, while Moulson, a defenseman, had two. The first period goal came from Britni Smith, a defenseman with her first goal of the season, while the others came in the third from Carolyne Prevost, Toronto’s goal-scoring leader, and Meagan Aarts, with her fifth goal of the season.

Anyway, so that was the CWHL this weekend. I’m going to have a link round-up in the next couple days; everything I have right now is Olympic related, and also kind of duplicates, so I’m going to hold off until I find that’s a little less rehashing the angst on twitter.

Olympic Hockey Recap: US Women Beat Sweden, 6-1

Kelli Stack playing in the CWHL, which according to NBC doesn't exist. (via Boston_CWHL on flickr)
Kelli Stack playing in the CWHL, which according to NBC doesn’t exist. (via Boston_CWHL on flickr)

Today USA whaled on Sweden, and if you follow any hockey writers on Twitter, you probably saw people talking about how uncompetitive and boring it is. Yes: Sweden got beat. After about 6 minutes of being clogged in the neutral zone, USA’s offense broke out and was rarely stifled after that. USA drew the Swedish defenders in, Sweden left passing lanes wide open, and the score ended 6-1. If Kelli Stack hadn’t lost a faceoff, it could’ve been a shutout for Vetter.

As always with women’s hockey (for me), the commentary for this game was somewhat maddening. Yo, did you know the Blackhawks are good at hockey? This apparently warrants discussion during one of a handful of Team USA games that will receive professional commentary in the course of 4 years. What doesn’t warrant professional commentary, apparently, is the fact that there is a North American women’s league – the CWHL – and they are hoping to pay their players within five years.

Continue reading Olympic Hockey Recap: US Women Beat Sweden, 6-1

Noora Räty May Be Retiring After This Olympics

Noora Räty may be retiring after this Olympics

So, earlier today, after Finland’s 2-4 loss to Sweden, Noora Räty let slip in an interview with Finnish media that she’d be retiring from the Finnish team after this tournament, and possibly from hockey unless she could find a paying job playing hockey. In the article we initially read on this from the IIHF, it was stated that she would be trying out next season with Kiekko-Vantaa, a team in Finland’s second-tier men’s league, Mestis.

In a later statement from Räty on her twitter account, she expanded on this a little further. She cited financial concerns, also saying that, while she’d considered playing in Russia’s women’s pro-league, currently the only women’s league that pays its players, she felt the level of competition wasn’t high enough to challenge her. (I’d also note, the salary figures we’ve seen for the better paid non-Russian players in the league work out to under minimum wage in the US.) She didn’t mention any possible tryout with Kiekko-Vantaa, or any other team, in this statement.

Noora Räty's statement on her possible retirement from her Twitter account.
Noora Räty’s statement on her possible retirement from her Twitter account.

Personally, I’m heartbroken at the idea that Räty may not be playing somewhere in the world this time next year. I’ve followed her with a huge amount of interest starting from her time on the Gophers, and she’s one of my favourite players. That said, I’m pretty recently out of college myself, and I really understand the desire to not live hand-to-mouth anymore.

I really hope she gets a contract somewhere. I think hockey will be the poorer to lose her.

CWHL Weekend Preview: Montreal goes to Toronto, twice!

CWHL Weekend Preview: Montreal goes to Toronto, twice!

So this weekend, the Montreal Stars are going on the road to visit the Toronto Furies! They’re playing back to back, Saturday and Sunday, at Toronto’s home arena, Mastercard Center. Because of this, there’s no streaming game this weekend. 🙁 Very sad, but with the women’s Olympic quarterfinals on Saturday, we’re pretty sure you’ll find some hockey to watch anyway.

Montreal and Toronto are currently first and second in the league, and first and second in both the power play and the penalty kill. It should be interesting to see if Montreal stays on top, or if Toronto can start to pull ahead.

Most of this week’s links are Olympic-related as well, sorry guys.

Whoooft. Hopefully, we can be done with the “controversy” over the gap in women’s hockey, at least for a while now.

Bad Third Period Downs Team USA; Canada Wins 3-2

Jessie Vetter stood out in this game. (via HowlingMad on flickr)
Jessie Vetter stood out in this game. (via HowlingMad on flickr)

The hype leading up to Canada-USA is insane – deserved, but insane. Suddenly all kinds of NHL beat reporters know everything about women’s hockey! Amazing.

(I have my sarcasm hat on; can you tell.)

For detailed scoring, the box score is here.

The short story of that game is that USA took too many penalties and had a disastrous 3rd period. Canada’s power play wasn’t actually that dangerous; they went 1 for 4 (technically 5, but the majority of one was 4-on-4). But it’s hard to get or sustain momentum when you’re on the kill so often. On top of that, for some reason, USA’s strategy going into the offensive zone was to attempt to deke past the likes of Catherine Ward, which didn’t work for obvious reasons. I’m also wondering why they failed to elevate on Labonte so many times; it’s possible the scouting just wasn’t there compared to the work USA’s done on cracking Szabados.

The first period was strong and relatively even, statistically. My personal opinion is that Canada had a bit more jump, their scoring chances were a little better – Vetter for sure had to be sharp. But in the end it was scoreless, and shots/scoring chances were pretty much even.

USA had no momentum until late in the second. The Schleper-to-Knight goal totally changed Team USA’s game, and nearly all the last scoring chances (or all, but I can’t remember; at 23, I’m aged) were for Team USA.

But did they carry that into the third? NAW, SON. NO shots for USA for most of that period, and on top of that, three goals for Canada. First Agosta on the power play from a great Wickenheiser pass, then Wickenheiser, then Agosta again on a breakaway. With barely a minute left, Schleper scored for USA, but by then, it was too late. Canada won this one 3-2.

What I haven’t mentioned was Canada’s controversial second goal, where the whistle went and then the puck trickled past Vetter. The whistle probably shouldn’t have been blown, but it was, so that should’ve been no goal. But even though I’m ragingly for Team USA, I can’t be that mad about it. Bad refereeing happens; the refs also missed 2 blatant too many men on Team Canada. Team USA wouldn’t have pulled ahead anyway with how they were playing, and it’s crucial to not let a goal like that second Canada goal get in your head. Team USA was transparently deflated after that goal, and played completely flatly. The third goal, an Agosta breakaway, was not a surprise.

But anyone who thinks this is the full story of the tournament hasn’t been paying attention to either team. They’re likely to meet again, and hopefully USA will have it together better next time.

Team USA’s biggest weakness was by far defense. There was very little cohesion, especially compared to Canada’s defense; in the third period, Team USA was barely doing better than chasing pucks. Vetter bailed them out several times. That has to change.

Bright spots: Hilary Knight’s play was, obviously, outstanding. Her work to get the puck to Stack on a breakaway alone was stunning, and she and Stack each had 4 SOG. Brianna Decker drove play for Team USA, carrying the puck in quite a bit and keeping it in even through Team USA’s disorganization (though she also took 2 penalties, so that’s a double-edged sword). Jessie Vetter kept the US in the game even through a total lack of momentum. And Anne Schleper, of course, with her shot from the point leading to a Knight tip-in, and her goal late in the third, was the sneaky offense that kept USA in the game.

Again: this isn’t the complete story. These teams are almost guaranteed to meet again in the medal round. They’re both very good, evenly matched teams. The real test will be if Team USA can maintain cool heads next time, and not let a bad goal totally deflate them.

Should Women’s Hockey Be An Olympic Sport?

We need more of this. (pennstatenews via flickr)
We need more of this. (pennstatenews via flickr)

Today an interesting article was posted in The Score about how women’s hockey isn’t competitive until the gold medal game and, if it shouldn’t be eliminated, then at least there are very good arguments for its elimination that might result in it no longer being an Olympic event. Shockingly, the writers of this blog disagree.

Let’s get one thing out of the way early: there is not parity in women’s hockey. In the 2010 Olympics, USA and Canadian women were dominant statistically (though there were a few players of other nationalities mixed in), and they’re likely to be dominant this year, too. Will they be as dominant? That remains to be seen. I’d like to say the gap is slowly closing; Canada-Finland was a tense game largely because Finland hung in it until late in the third period. But let’s say, for the sake of argument, that the closing of the gap has been so infinitesimal as to be nonexistent.

Continue reading Should Women’s Hockey Be An Olympic Sport?

Olympics Women’s Hockey Recap – Feb 8th & Feb 9th

USA gettin' it done.
USA gettin’ it done.

Raise your hand if you’re surprised that Canada and the US have been dominating the women’s hockey tournament so far! Just kidding, literally no one is surprised by this. The games kicked off February 8th, with USA getting a 3-1 win over Finland and Canada sending Switzerland packing, 5-0.

Switzerland has very little support for women’s hockey, and oh, does it show. Canada had 69 shots to Switzerland’s 14. That tells a pretty clear story on its own (though after the Olympics, we’ll be doing some statistical breakdowns of games), but it’s worth noting that Switzerland’s biggest problems were very clearly connected to their lack of practice as a cohesive team. In the defensive zone, they collapsed around whoever had the puck, leaving lanes wide open for Canada to pass in – and then score. In the offensive zone, Canada almost never had trouble clearing the puck; Switzerland just didn’t look like they knew what to do. The only bright spot for Switzerland so far has been goaltending Florence Schelling, who posted a .928 SV% for the CAN-SUI game. Not bad, Schelling. Sorry your name lends itself to the obvious, unfortunate pun.

Finland, in contrast, held the US to only 3 goals. Mind you, that first goal game at 0:53 in the first, from Hilary Knight – but overall, Noora Raty had a .930 SV%, and Finland in general had it together more than Switzerland. Finland is a legitimate contender in the sense that they are becoming competitive with the best teams in women’s hockey. Hopefully they’ll continue to develop and serve up an interesting game for the bronze – or even silver.

February 9th was Group B’s turn. Sweden won against Japan 1-0. Nana Fujimoto, the Japanese goaltender, put up an amazing performance against Sweden. Japan actually had a number of decent scoring chances, despite being shut out. They play an organized game that manages quite a bit of possession, considering what a new program they are. Mind, this will probably change once they play Canada or the USA, both of whom are more physical teams than Sweden, but it’s good to see two teams play such a tight game.

Russia – which has thrown support behind women’s hockey, boasting a professional hockey league of largely Russian players – shelled Germany 4-1. Russia has the elusive home ice advantage, if you believe in that kind of thing; at the very least, Russians turned out to support their women’s team in impressive numbers.

Players to watch: countries with less developed women’s hockey programs are bringing it in the goaltending department this tournament. Keep an especially close eye on Noora Raty, who’s playing behind a team that might actually help her carry them beyond bronze.

Hilary Knight has been a dominant presence for the US. On Canada’s side, Wickenheiser doesn’t appear to have rust on her, and Poulin is actually getting minutes, to the surprise of everyone familiar with Dineen. And, finally, Molly Schaus and Jessie Vetter are battling it out for the starting position in the medal games, with US coach Stone not naming a starter yet. That will be interesting to continue to watch.