As you might have noticed if you’ve checked your calendar lately, there are no CWHL games this weekend. This is not a mistake! The Four Nations cup is coming up, and players have already left their teams for national camps.
So, we thought we’d do a quick and dirty primer on the Four Nations Cup Tournament, instead of previewing the CWHL games.
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.
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.