SOCHI, RUSSIA - The future of NHLers in the Olympics remains undecided, but the debate over the future of women’s hockey in the Olympics is apparently closed.
Women’s hockey is here to stay, International Ice Hockey Federation president Rene Fasel said Tuesday at a media conference with NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and Donald Fehr, the executive director of the NHL Players Association.
After the Vancouver Olympic Games, women’s hockey got a warning from then IOC head honcho Jacques Rogge that it needed to improve the depth of play among the countries or risk getting the boot from the five-ring circus.
A lop-sided semifinal Monday which saw the U.S. outshoot Sweden 70-9 in a 6-1 win fired up the discussion about the disparity between the Americans, Canada and the rest of the field again, even though this tournament, thanks to dividing the haves and the have-nots into separate pools, meant more competitive games.
Canada actually had a good tussle with Switzerland in the other semi, jumping out to a 3-0 lead and winding up with a 3-1 win.
Canada and the U.S. will play for gold Thursday (noon, ET).
“There was a discussion I think in either Vancouver or Torino about whether to eliminate women’s hockey because it wasn’t competitive. I tell you on behalf of hockey, we would be distressed,” said Bettman during the media conference.
“That will never happen,” replied Fasel. “I can guarantee that will never happen.”
“Good,” said Bettman. “I was hoping that’s what you would say.”
Fasel said the women’s game needs more time to develop and compared it to the early days of men’s hockey in the Olympics.
“In the ’30s Switzerland lost in the Olympics by two digits, so we needed actually between 60 to 70 years to beat Canada for the first time in the Torino Games, okay?” he said. “Canada came just with a club team and they won all the medals until after the war, the Soviets were coming and it was more difficult for them, for Canada to win. Now we have the best on best and I would say still Canada and U.S. have an advantage with the number of players they have in the NHL, but it’s competitive with the Swedes, the Finns, the Czechs, the Slovaks, the Swiss are coming. We cannot say which team will win the gold medal.”
After the media conference Fasel told QMI Agency the IOC is willing to give women’s hockey that time.
“Yeah, yeah, yeah. I have no issues,” he said. “The results here, they were really great with some exceptions with the U.S. team, they are so strong. The women’s participation in hockey is not a question here. We never spoke about that (with the IOC).
“I would say on the contrary, we will maybe try to put, we can go to 12 teams. The next step should be is we to go to 10. It’s too early for Pyeongchang, but my dream is that in 2022, the IIHF will have 10 women’s teams playing in the competition so that would be good. That’s my goal.”
Improving the level of play in the women’s game has been a goal of Hockey Canada. There’s some self-interest there, of course, since improving women’s hockey around the world takes the heat off the Olympic debate.
It has about a dozen coaching mentors working in various countries and is helping organize a couple of camps later this spring in Finland, one for developing countries and another for the elites. There will be a meeting in Zurich at the IIHF headquarters to finalize plans for the camps.
Also, Hockey Canada is close to signing a four-year deal with a coach who will oversee Korea’s national hockey program in preparation for the 2018 Winter Olympic Games. As the host, South Korea will enter teams in both the men’s and women’s hockey tournaments.
“We need a little bit more time with the women. As I said, 60,000 girls in the U.S, 80,000 girls in Canada against a couple of thousand in the European countries. We need patience. We need to work very, very hard to close this gap with the help of USA Hockey and Canadian hockey ... I would say in the beginning we had Canada and U.S., Finland and Sweden. Now we have Russia coming in, Switzerland coming in, Japan is growing. We need time. Just give me a little bit more time.”