Sunday, June 24, 2018

No apologies: Dominant U.S., Canada await competition

Every once in a while a reporter for a competing news organization asks a question so knowing, so intuitive and altogether brilliant at a postgame news conference, nothing but a doffing of the cap will do.

Alas, that did not happen Monday at Shayba Arena.

Instead, a Sam Donaldson wanna-be from the French press news agency wanted to blow the lid off women's hockey, expose the sport for deigning to have just two dominant teams. Because the U.S. and Canada had the audacity to convincingly beat their foes on their way to another gold medal matchup, he asked U.S. Coach Katey Stone whether the two powers are "doing enough" for the future of the game.

Imagine, for a moment, Nick Saban's response after being asked whether he was "doing enough" for college football after Alabama beat Arkansas by eight touchdowns? Or Geno Auriemma's contorted face if he had to answer whether the Connecticut women were "doing enough" after beating Providence 105-49 last season?

Or, in the spirit of the Games, let's just ask the German luge coach if he is "doing enough" for his sport, considering six of the seven greatest multi-medalists of all time are from Deutschland.

"Of course, it can be a problem for the world's hockey to be so powerful," Leif Boork, Sweden's assistant coach, said after his team's 6-1 loss. "But, on the other hand, it's something to look up to. It's not U.S. and Canada's fault for being good."

I feel bad for Team USA and Canada, bitter rivals who though trading fisticuffs in the run-up to the Games have been forced into a mutual kinship: They're supposed to apologize for the rest of the world for not catching up.

I feel worse for Julie Chu, who is playing in her fourth Olympics and has mentored and coached thousands of young hockey-obsessed girls in that time. So ultra-committed she once deferred her admission to Harvard to compete in Salt Lake in 2002, Chu has won everything but the gold medal denied her three, soul-wrenching times by Canada. She should feel bad about trying to win big this time around?

It would be one thing if Katey Stone and her players voted to make women's hockey a part of the Winter Games; they did not. The International Olympic Committee did. And because network advertisers and the IOC don't have the patience they did when the U.S. and Canada used to drub teams 20-0 in men's hockey — before that sport became genuinely competitive among many nations after the 1950s — there are rumblings of getting rid of it.

I asked Chu if it would eat at her soul if women's hockey went the way of softball, ceasing to be an Olympic sport by 2018.

"Absolutely," she said after the U.S. beat Sweden, 6-1, advancing to the gold-medal game for the fourth time since 1998. "The reality is if women's hockey ever got pulled out of the Olympics, the trickle effect is going to be huge. Not just on the Olympic level, not just on the international level, but we're going to feel it at our NCAA level in the States, and we're going to feel it in the growth of our girls."

She went on, saying she actively campaigns for the rest of the world to catch up to Canada and Team USA.

"We've got to have a bigger-picture mentality about the growth of our game," Chu said. "A lot of people say: 'Julie, you realize that you're trying to build up other countries so they beat you?' And — at the end of the day — yes. I'd rather have (1) women's hockey in the Olympics and (2) eight great teams in a field that anyone can upset anyone else."

The Americans are on a mission. The lone holdover from the past three Olympics, the woman with three medals but no gold, deserves a shot to stand atop the podium with more pride for finally beating Canada at the Games than guilt over how much better her team is than everyone else's.

— Washington Post

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