Rematches make for great storylines-just ask the producers of Rocky. But would it be wrong to hope for a surprise ending in this year’s women’s world hockey championship? Sure, the country’s ongoing rivalry with the United States in female hockey has produced some operatic highs and lows: Canada’s excruciating loss to the Americans at the Nagano Winter Games in 1998 and miraculous goldmedal win over the U.S. (and the referee) in 2002 in Salt Lake City both spring to mind. But it seems neither fair nor healthy for the future of the sport that the same two countries are once again heavily favoured to meet in the final at the worlds, which begin March 30 in Halifax and Dartmouth.
In the seven world tournaments held since 1990, Canada and the U.S. have appeared in every gold-medal game (Canada has won all seven, and has never lost a game at the event). Which may explain the absence of drumbeating on either side of the border as the 2004 championship approaches. Truth is, after years of mano à mano, even the most bitter feuds can grow stale. Leafs versus Habs just doesn’t cut it any more. The Hatfields and McCoys now settle their differences on a softball diamond. Even Rocky took on new challengers, and one of them -that big blond guy-was actually from another country.
So you can forgive long-time observers of female hockey for lamenting the current and seemingly immutable imbalance of power at the top of their sport. “There are some obvious problems,” says Les Lawton, a former national team coach who now heads the women’s hockey program at Montreal’s Concordia University. “It’s a two-team race for the world championship every year.”
Of course, no one wishes the home side ¡IIif anything, there will be record support in Halifax for star forward Hayley Wickenheiser and the rest of the Canadians. But nor would it be a sin to hope Canada or the U.S. falls to one of the seven other countries represented in Halifax-China, Finland, Germany, Japan, Russia, Sweden and Switzerland. In the meantime, fans may be well advised to tune into the Esso Women’s Nationals, starting next week in Sherwood Park, outside of Edmonton. The games are intense, the on-ice talent is almost as good as at the world championships, the teams are evenly balanced and-for the time being, at least-the result is by no means a forgone conclusion.
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