I was a little unhappy the other day to see ESPN report that Jacques Rogge had threatened to remove Women’s hockey from the Olympics in 8 years if the talent gap between North America and the rest of the world didn’t close. For those who followed the tournament, they would see that there were several blowouts in the hockey tournament. Canada defeating Slovakia by a score of 18-0, for instance. Being that we here at EXACT Sports love to do math, that translates to a goal every 3 minutes and 20 seconds. That poor Slovakian goalie (Zuzana Tomcikova) faced a total of 67 shots… or, get this, 1 shot every 54 seconds. And she stayed in the whole game (I could see EXACT simulating that goaltending experience at one of our hockey camps!). By contrast, the Canadian goaltender (Kim St-Pierre) faced, on average, only 1 shot every 6 minutes and 40 seconds—the equivalent of 3 shots per period.
The tournament basically was a 2-team tournament between Team USA and Canada (Canada eventually winning the gold). While I don’t blame Rogge or others for their frustrations, I’m not sure this is the right move.
Here are some thoughts:
• Women’s Hockey is growing in the United States in Canada. Since EXACT Sports has begun working with competitive girl’s hockey clubs and camps several years ago, we’ve seen firsthand the commitment and interest from players, their parents, and coaches. We think that hockey, including Women’s hockey, is a positively infectious sport and will do well outside of North America.
• It just takes time to promote and grow a sport. China has only 67 women in its entire country of 1 billion+ that play hockey (in the tournament, Team USA defeated China 12-1). In the traditional hockey power countries like Finland (which won the bronze) and Sweden (which upset Team USA back in Turin), the gap is beginning to close.
• EXACT Sports has been intimately involved with long-term player development for quite some time, and what it’s going to take to keep growing hockey in these countries is a commitment from the top (Olympic hockey) and then follow-through from the bottom. These countries will need to continue promoting the sport with more girls camps, clinics, and girls hockey tournaments. Where that may be difficult due to a lack of critical mass, such as in China, the national hockey associations must provide hockey training and coaching to their players in a meaningful way. We’ve seen China show this kind of commitment before (did anyone see the Chinese snowboarders?), so I am certain they’ll be successful.
Just like in the Men’s game, where we’re starting to see parity, development of the game takes time, especially for a complicated skill sport like hockey. Hockey player development is a long journey. It might be longer than 8 years before teams like China can compete, but I am certain that by competing in the first place their development will be expedited.
I want to leave this post on a note about how merely having the Olympic competition will inspire and improve the state of the game internationally. I was reading the American Development Model (ADM) blog (http://usahadm.com/wordpress/?p=84) about how Coach Mark Johnson had Team USA practice cross-ice hockey (small games) during a practice session before the tournament began. As Team USA was playing their small games, the Chinese team was watching on the other side of the glass.
I can only hope that they were picking up a few tips, tricks and techniques—and maybe even a little bit of excitement—to bring back with them to help keep growing women’s hockey in China.