Friday, February 26, 2010

The joy of women's hockey

I am watching the women's hockey Olympic gold medal game.

After a few years of not watching hockey because I wasn't playing, I am starting up again.  I went to a Sharks vs. Blackhawks game and couldn't believe how great it was to be back.  And now in the Olympics I am watching not just great hockey and great hockey players (Hayley Wickenheiser is still playing!) but a different kind of women's hockey.

There are different rules for men and women, and they can be very obviously sexist.  Women must wear full face protection (cage or full shield) to protect our faces.  We could say that full facial protection is really smart, citing men who have lost their teeth or their eyesight, but if it's that smart, why do only women have to protect their faces?  Men can wear full cages, too, but it's their option.

Men can check; women can't.  It's against the rules for a woman to bodycheck another woman player.  Because we're so delicate; because it's not ladylike.  There can be no other reason.  There is nothing about the differences between men's and women's anatomy that would cause checking to be unsafe for women but safe for men.  The result is that women are denied a tool of the game.  It's like saying women who play softball aren't allowed to tag a player to get an out.

In this game, however, the refs are letting the players be physical.  They aren't calling checks.  I'm seeing bodychecks, and the announcers are seeing them.  In the second period, Caihow just checked a player ... and got a high sticking penalty.  The game may get out of hand, as it does with men, if the physical play goes beyond what is safe (and to hockey players and viewers it is possible to see that point), and the refs do risk this if they don't start calling bodychecking, but please let these women play all-out.

I played in a game once where we started checking and the refs let it go.  The game did not get out of hand.  The experience was remarkable, having that extra tool.  Not to mention that the endorphin high gets even higher.

Third period: The American defense looks sloppy; the Canadians are playing superbly.  It's slightly less physical (I wonder if the teams were warned the teams during the intermission).  The American offense is sloppy, too.  They are losing too many faceoffs.  And why aren't they cycling?  They need to keep the puck moving in the offensive zone, keep the Canadian defense on their toes, keep the goalie moving.  Instead they just pass it to an open person for a shot, but the entire Canadian team is in position and ready for it.

I'm rooting for a good game, and right now the score is apparently close -- only 2-0 Canada -- but the game seems tilted toward the Canadians.  They seem to be comfortably in the lead.  The nice thing about the US winning would be the boost to women's hockey's status in the US.  I don't see the US coming back from 2-0, though.

The American defense is falling apart, chasing the puck.  The American goalie is the only reason this game is close right now, and she is playing with incredibly cool poise.  Both goalies are incredibly impressive.

The intensity of the final minute and Canadian win in the Vancouver arena is incredible.  The body language of the defeated Americans reminds me of the Russians after the Miracle on Ice.  I wish more people could appreciate this amazing sport.  I wish I had more opportunities to watch women play at this level of skill.

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