Ice hockey expert Alyssa Longmuir gives us all the info to how to watch along these Games and who to look for on the ice.
The Olympics always brings forth a plethora of new sports to experience, teams to get invested in, and storylines to follow. In Australia specifically, the Winter Games offers an opportunity to experience sports outside our usual weekend viewing experiences. Between competitive sweeping (curling), seemingly impossible flips (ski jumping), and those that resemble death-defying stunts (the skeleton) one sport fills the gap left by team sports like soccer, basketball, and waterpolo from the Summer Olympics.
Enter ice hockey, with more than twice the speed of soccer, the physical contact levels of Australian rules, sticks with which spearing opponents only results in a two-minute timeout and goaltenders practically strapped with pillows trying to stop an 8cm-wide circle of frozen rubber that’s heading towards them at well over 100 km/h, ice hockey is definitely a new experience for most Australians.
With the knock-out stage starting tomorrow this guide serves as an intro to the sport, the teams, and the players to keep your eyes on the Games so you can impress all your colleagues with your new found ice hockey knowledge.
Hockey (The Frozen Version)
On the surface, the rules of ice hockey are fairly similar to most projectile-based team sports. That is to say, we are watching two teams attempt to get an item (in this case a frozen rubber disk called the puck) into a designated area (in this case the net) to receive a point. Where hockey does differentiate is largely in its substitution rules. A team of 21 skaters and two goaltenders are listed for any given game and any of these players can be interchanged at will, at any point in time. Skaters in particular swap every 30-40 seconds with most skaters taking part in up to 40 ‘shifts’ throughout a game.
The on-ice team is generally made of a goaltender and five skaters—three forwards who are grouped together in ‘a line’, and two defenders who are grouped together in ‘a D pairing’—with players generally trying to rotate as a unit.
However, there are situations where the ‘normal’ five skater makeup might change. One of these situations is where one team concedes a penalty and a skater is required to sit in the penalty box for two-five minutes. This would bring forth a ‘power play’ (for the team that maintains all five skaters) or a ‘penalty kill’ (for the team that is down a skater) with the skates not necessarily going out in their usual combinations but instead in their ‘special team’ groupings.
The other situation wherein the five skater makeup might be changed is in the final minutes of a game, usually, if a team is down by just a single goal, wherein a coach might elect to ‘pull’ their goaltender in favor of adding an extra skater (usually a forward) to the ice. While this does leave the net unattended in an all-or-nothing situation, it’s not an uncommon thing to witness.
Teams to Watch
With the group stage over in Beijing it’s onto the knockout stage where everything is on the line. Here are the teams to watch, and their matchups heading into the quarter finals.
The Current World Champions have torn through the field so far taking down Switzerland 12-1 and Finland 11-1. Coming into the games Canada arrived with a mission not just to win gold, but to yet again prove that they are the undisputed best team in the world after having lost their first Olympics in 16-years in Pyeongchang followed by an unexpected 3rd place finish at Worlds in 2019. Their rivalry with the USA is one for the history books having matched up in all but two gold medal games since the sport first took the international stage in 1990, and without an upset by a team like Finland in the semi finals, Beijing looks to be the next chapter in this story
The current Olympic champions had a less than ideal showing at the 2021 World Championship being beaten 5-1 by Canada in the group stage. While they managed to pull it back to a respectable 2-3 loss in the gold medal game, the cracks that showed in Team USA’s system were still evident. An even greater problem presents itself in the absence of Brianna Decker with the USA’s top forward going down just 10 minutes into their Olympic campaign and has officially been announced as ruled out for the remainder of the tournament. While neither of these issues are necessarily the writing on the wall, the USA are going to need players to step up and step up big if they want to go back to back for the first time in Olympic History.
Finland should have won the 2019 World Championship and while I will avoid going into detail here just know that dodgy video review is the worst and even the international ice hockey federation has said that it should have been ruled as a goal. Near misses aside, the 2019 World Championship proved one thing, nothing is guaranteed. While on paper Finland has sat comfortably in this third place rank for several years, they have proved that they can go toe-to-toe with the USA and Canada on their best day. Whether that day will come during these 2022 Olympics is yet to be seen, but when you have one of the top three players in the entire world on your team, anything is possible.
Players and Storylines
Sarah Fillier – #10 – Canada
At just 21 years old, Fillier is lighting it up at what is just her second tournament with the national team and has already been coined by many as Canada’s ‘Next Great Hope’. A rising star at the 2021 World Championship with three goals in seven games, all eyes were fixed on Fillier coming into the Olympics waiting to see if she was going to be able to live up to her own hype. Now just two games into the group stage, the questions should honestly be was there even enough hype with the forward scoring on her first shift just a minute into the game, twice so far and four goals total to her name already.
Hilary Knight – #21 – United States
With Team USA’s other top forward Brianna Decker out for the tournament, there is a lot of pressure suddenly riding on Hilary Knights’ shoulders. In the recent 2021 World Championships, Knight broke the all-time USA goal record, cementing her place as the most successful American forward of all time.
Jenni Hiirikoski – #6 – Finland
The best defender in the world, and a member of the Finnish National Team for two decades, there is rarely a player who logs as many minutes in a game as Hirrikoski. She is the foundational pillar on which team Finland is built and her ability to turn defense into offense means that not even the best teams can relax with her on the ice.
Alina Muller – #25 – Switzerland
Regarded as one of the best young forwards in the sport, 23-year-old Muller has already played in three Olympics, earning her first medal at just 15 years of age. The star forward for Team Switzerland missed most of the World Championships in August with an injury but has since been lighting it up for Northeastern in the NCAA. The top scorer in 2018, and with one goal already to her name in this tournament, there is a lot of pressure resting on Muller’s shoulders if the Swiss plan on advancing past the quarter finals and getting another shot at a medal.
Where to Watch after the Olympics
When the Olympics are over it’s shockingly easy to go back to not caring about these sports that you got invested in during the Games, but did you know that Australia has a national women’s ice hockey league so you can continue your new found love for women’s hockey? Here are some ways you can watch some international women’s hockey as well as continue to support our Australian competition and athletes.
Premier Hockey Federation – Follow on Twitter
A North American based league with teams in Canada and the United States. Games can be viewed on either Twitch or ESPN+.
NCAA – Follow on Twitter
The American collegiate league and home to many of the best young stars at the Olympics
Games can be viewed via ESPN+. With the playoffs and then the Frozen Four taking place in March, now is the perfect time to get into the college game. Recommended teams to watch include the University of Minnesota, Princeton, Ohio State, and Wisconsin.
Australian Women’s Ice Hockey League – Follow on Twitter
With teams in five capital cities and a new season hopefully starting in October, the AWIHL is the best place to catch all your local ice hockey action. The league has streamed every game for free for the last two seasons prior to the covid shutdowns and will hopefully continue to do so if play starts back up as intended after a two-year hiatus. Follow the league on twitter to stay updated on the new season.