OTTAWA – It was in the nation’s capital 23 years ago that the first official IIHF women’s event took place, and lo these many years later many things have changed.
Fresh off his visit to Rome for the installment of Pope Francis, His Excellency, the Right Honourable David Johnston, Governor General of Canada, and his wife, Mrs. Sharon Johnston, will act as patrons of the 15th edition of the Women’s World Championship which kicks off tomorrow in Ottawa. It was in the nation’s capital 23 years ago that the first official IIHF women’s event took place, and lo these many years later many things have changed.
Mr. Johnston is the 28th governor general of Canada and holds a position that has often brought out the hockey lover, most recently the 26th governor general, Adrienne Clarkson, who donated an eponymous trophy to women’s hockey for the national champion, won just two weeks ago by the Boston Blades. Several players from that team are here with Team USA hoping to wrest the title of world champion from Canada, notably Hilary Knight, Gigi Marvin, Anne Schleper, Kelley Steadman, and Jen Schoullis.
Tuesday’s action includes four games that promise a little bit of everything. The tournament will be using the same – and very successful – format that was first introduced last year in which the top four teams are grouped in one pool and the bottom four in another, kicking off with games at Scotiabank Place that feature the same four teams that fought for medals last year in Burlington, Vermont.
The final game of the day pits the two North Americans in a game that has double meaning. Last year, Canada beat the U.S. 5-4 in overtime to win gold, but in the opener to kick off the 2012 event the Americans humiliated Canada to the tune of 9-2.
Earlier in the day tomorrow, Swiss goalie Florence Schelling, last year’s best puckstopper according to the IIHF Directorate, will lead her bronze-medal winning team against the Finns, who lost to the Swiss 6-2 in the third-place showdown which shocked the women’s hockey world.
Over at the smaller Nepean Sportsplex it will be Russia and Germany opening the 2013 tournament with a game starting at 12 noon local time. The Russians finished sixth last year but grabbed headlines a few months ago by naming former star Alexei Yashin as the team’s general manager. The team’s performance is a matter of great pride back home as teams prepare for the Sochi Olympics next February. The Germans, meanwhile, avoided relegation in 2012 by beating Slovakia but will have their work cut out for them in Ottawa if they hope to avoid the same fate.
On the outside looking in, Sweden will play the Czech Republic later in the day at the Sportsplex. Sweden has fought with Finland to be the dominant European country over most of those 23 years of WW history, but the Swedes have appeared in the bronze game in only one of the last four worlds. Worse, the team lost star and veteran goalie Kim Martin just yesterday to injury. After she ripped her Achilles tendon during warm-up, she won’t be able to play at all, leaving the crease in the hands of the less experienced tandem of Valentina Lizana and Sara Grahn.
Damkronor will be playing a Czech team making its own history. Although the men’s national team is world class, this is the first appearance by the Czech women at the top level. In WW18 play, they have been in the top eight since that event started in 2008, so perhaps the performances of the younger players will finally bear fruit at the senior level.
The one thing the 2013 will NOT do is determine participants for Sochi. That distinction goes to the top six nations from the end-of-season 2012 World Ranking (Canada, United States, Finland, Switzerland, Sweden, Russia), as well as winners of the qualification events this year, Japan and Germany.