New ice hockey format but expect same old results

Wed Feb 5, 2014 4:59am EST
 
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By Steve Keating

SOCHI, Russia (Reuters) - A format change to the Sochi Winter Games women's ice hockey tournament may prevent coaches and players from having to apologize for the embarrassing routs that have blighted past Olympics.

But hockey officials could yet be left squirming as they try to justify how a winless team managed to reach the Sochi medal round.

During the 2010 Vancouver Winter Games, then International Olympic Committee (IOC) president Jacques Rogge fired a warning shot across the sport's bows, acknowledging that the huge gap in skill between the two North American powerhouses Canada and the United States and the rest of the world needed to be addressed.

But with that gap seemingly as wide as ever, and the sport under pressure to eliminate the ugly routs that trigger debate every four years over whether women's ice hockey deserves to be on Games program, officials opted for the quick fix implementing a format that will separate the strong nations from the weak.

For Sochi, the world's top four ranked teams, Canada, U.S., Finland and Switzerland will compete in Group A with all four teams advancing to the medal round, meaning one country could see their way through to the quarter-finals without having won a single game.

The top two teams in Group A will advance directly to the semi-finals.

The other group will feature Germany, Japan, Russia and Sweden.

Despite their best efforts to inject some competitiveness into the women's tournament the format is unlikely to change the end result with Canada and the United States again playing for the gold medal.   Continued...

 
Finland's national women's ice hockey team take part in a training session at Shayba Arena in preparation for the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics February 5, 2014. REUTERS/Grigory Dukor