The Canadian Women’s hockey team is in the midst of the World Championships. Two games in, they’re showing exactly what it is to be Canadian.
The Canada/US rivalry is obviously massive in women’s hockey, by logistics even more so than it is in the men’s game. Yet it actually mirrors more closely the height of the men’s Canada/Soviet feud that was at its most bitter through the 60’s to the 80’s, and it’s causing Canada some of the same struggles on the women’s stage that the men dealt with early in hockey evolution.
The tenacity and work ethic of our ladies is a prime example of how Canada plays the game, and has always played it. That was the basis of the 1972 Summit Series triumph for the men.
Playing their part, the American women appear to have developed the trait taught to us by the ’72 men’s Russian team: superior creativity.
Both of these traits were evident in the first game of this tournament, a 2-1 American come from behind victory.
Canada got into some early penalty trouble, and what saved them was an unbelievable effort that succeeded by virtue of the overwhelming desire to not fail. That Canadian defiance overcame the early onslaught, and continued throughout. But it inevitably fell short because the US was able to consistently generate more high percentage scoring threats.
The Canadians worked harder to get possession of the puck, but seemed largely uncomfortable as individuals with holding on to it for any length of time. Because the Americans were positionally patient and the Canadians felt compelled to get rid of the puck quickly, it forced them to make passes that weren’t there. It forced them to take a lower percentage shot because they were too hasty to wait for a higher percentage one.
The Americans had much less urgency to battle for the puck, but consistently made smarter decisions once they had it.
As a Canadian watching that game, scoring more than two goals seemed unlikely and holding the US to one was even more so.
There is some optimism as it was a close game. And Canada did score 8 on Russia in its second game. The vast majority of those goals though were blue collar, driving the net and willing a bounce to go the right way.
I’m not saying that Canadian women aren’t skilled players with the puck by any means. I’m not saying the Americans are the better team either.
But when you look at what the US has done, it’s eerily similar to the Soviet men. The Russians won just 1 of the first 7 World Championships between 1954-1962, and then won 18 of the next 24 tournaments up to 1991, starting with a string of 7 straight.
By comparison, the American women won 1 of the first 10 women’s World Championships, but have since rattled off five golds in the last 6 tournaments, and 6 in the last 8. Does this mean a similar significant drought for the Canadian women over the next 17 years?
The gifted second and third generation Canadian players show promise of bucking the trend. It can’t be that bad anyway, as Canada has been able to cling to its Olympic dominance.
But as the saying goes, those who fail to learn from the lessons of history are doomed to repeat them. Canada needs to come up with more imaginative ways to attack the US zone before its too late.