When will they catch up?

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 7:20 AM ET

Instead of Team Canada's preliminary games at the Women's World Hockey Championships, TSN should just run a 60-minute video of people kicking puppies.

Or maybe take us backstage at the pet store when they feed a handful of mice to a hungry mother python.

It wouldn't be any less competitive, or sporting, than the lopsided slaughters they've been trying to pass off as an international tournament.

They say the Finns, today's semifinal opponent, will put up more of a fight, but the reality is that the Worlds is a two-team tournament, Canada and the U.S., which means it really isn't a tournament at all. Thirteen-nothing over Kazakhstan, 12-0 over Russia and in the closest game to date, 10-0 over Sweden? Please, bring on the puppies and pythons.

"All of those countries are in the early stages of development, so women's hockey is going to be a bit of a roller-coaster for a while," said Howie Draper, who knows all about being light-years ahead of the competition, having coached the U of A Pandas to three national championships and a 110-game undefeated streak.

"Sweden played really, really well last year and won bronze, but they don't have the depth yet to maintain that kind of strength. All of the teams, with the exception of Canada and the U.S., are going to be up and down for some time."

MAKE NO APOLOGIES FOR BEING BETTER

The Canadian girls, to their credit, make no apologies for being better than everyone else.

"We're here to showcase the game at its best," captain Cassie Campbell said after the Kazakhstan rout. "We don't want to play at their level. We want to show the people how the game can be played - that's why we do that."

Absolutely. It would look even worse if they turned off their engines after 30 minutes and played half-hearted keepaway to run out the clock. But whitewash after whitewash (the Americans won their first three games 8-2, 7-0 and 8-1) can't be helping the development of women's hockey at home or abroad (no pun intended).

It's a hard sell, your country on your program when it just got kicked 13-0, and it's not much easier to sell the game when you're the team doing the kicking.

"It is, and I say that from experience because our program has been quite successful, as well," said Draper. "I hear a lot of people tell me that they don't come to the games because they already know who's going to win. I guess that can keep some people away, but to the real fans, people who enjoy what the female game has to offer, there's still a lot you can get from it.

"Even in the one-sided games I still enjoy watching Canada and what they can do."

What we're watching on the world stage is almost exactly what the U of A women experienced in the eight years since their program launched. The Pandas, like Team Canada, were by far the fastest program out of the gate and, like Canada, have been running roughshod over the competition ever since.

'FORTUNATE TO LEAD THE PACK'

"We've been fortunate to lead the pack up until this point but next year I really think we'll see a lot more parity than we've ever had," said Draper. "We're just starting to see other schools put a little more money there, hiring full-time coaches, and as a result all of the other programs are getting better."

To the point where the championship run and 110-game streak came to a stunning halt in this year's title game - a 4-1 loss to Wilfrid Laurier.

"(The Pandas dynasty) hasn't motivated them to stop trying," said Draper.

"If anything it motivated them to get better. I think we'll see the same thing at the world level."

If what's happening at the Canadian University level is a preview of what's in store globally, then how long until Canada and the U.S. will have somebody to challenge them besides themselves, and we can take the "World" championships seriously?

"Not too long ago we pulled out a video of games from '97 and just seeing the difference in Canada from then to now is astronomical," said Draper. "If Sweden played that 1997 Canadian team they would do a lot better against them.

"Given time those other nations will catch up. Is it going to be in the next five or 10 years, that's hard to say, but eventually things will start to get better."


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