Lay off women's hockey

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VANCOUVER — Blowouts in the women’s Olympic hockey tournament are going to happen.

Get used to it.

Get over it.

Games like Saturday’s 18-0 clobbering of Slovakia by Canada seem to bother everybody but the fans and the players themselves.

The USA whomped China 12-1 (outshooting them 61-7) Sunday in its opener.

Canada will be a good bet to hit double digits again Monday when it plays Switzerland (2:30 p.m. PST) in its second of three games in the preliminary round.

Saturday’s game between Canada and the Slovaks was the most lopsided there’s been since women’s hockey became part of the Olympic program in 1998, eclipsing Canada’s 16-0 thumping of the host Italians in 2006 — who were in the field as hosts, not on merit.

Many of the questions put to the Canadians after the game Saturday were about the merits of women’s hockey being in the Olympic program, given the disparity in the quality of the teams.

Several of the Canadian players made a legitimate point in rebuttle: There are blowouts at the world junior tournament, too, but the outrage doesn’t seem as intense. Canada beat Latvia 16-0 at the WJC in Saskatchewan.

As long as goal differential is going to be one of the keys to breaking ties and deciding seedings for the elimination games, teams like Canada will be pushed to keep pouring it on.

“I don’t think it’s something only in women’s hockey, but it seems to be a common theme that comes up,” said Canadian forward Meghan Agosta, who had a hat-trick against the Slovaks.

Canadian forward Caroline Ouellette wasn’t making any apologies for Saturday’s romp.

“I hope you guys (the media) won’t ridicule the result or say this isn’t good for women’s hockey,” she said. “I would love to play tough and tight games, but you to understand that’s women’s hockey. It’s not highly regarded in a lot of countries. The Czech Republic is a great hockey nation, but they don’t have a women’s team. We’re coming from a long way.

“We don’t have the opportunity to play in this type of building in front of this type of crowd,” she said of the packed Canada Hockey Place. “We only have five games to play. What do you want us to do? Stop playing?”

I still think there’s a point to playing these games. It is the highlight for women’s hockey, a pinnacle for which to strive and at this point in the evolution of women’s hockey, participation is its own reward.

The two groups who you would think would be most put off by the outcome — the fans who had to watch it and the Slovaks who had to endure it — clearly appreciated the night.

There was a great moment when the game was over and a ‘Go Slovakia’ sign was flashed on the big screen. The Slovaks were at centre ice and the crowd began to give them an ovation. The Slovaks raised their sticks and the cheers grew.

They milled about there soaking it all up, a life-time moment for women accustomed to playing in front of no more than a handful of people, mostly friends and family.

“The fans were great,” said Slovak goaltender Zuzana Tomcikova. “They supported us, too, not just Canada.”

As the Slovaks trailed off the ice, they applauded the fans back. For many of those women, that will be their shining Olympic moment, playing in front of the biggest crowd they’ll ever see, there to see them.

They might not ever have a night or a moment like that again.

The score will be forgotten, but they’ll remember those cheers.

chris.stevenson@sunmedia.ca


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