Contributor Andrew Woodbury reflecting on an Olympics like no other
Wrapping Up the Olympics
Olympic hockey is generally the best hockey there is, but in Beijing with no NHLers on the men’s side and games at inconvenient times for a North American audience, the curb appeal was lower than usual. Throw in no fans at the games and it’s a perfect storm for indifference.
Journalists got in on the de-hype train as well. Regarding the men’s side, The Globe and Mail wrote that “Olympic men’s hockey doesn’t matter if the NHL isn’t there.” Rosi DiManno of the Toronto Star claimed that women’s hockey doesn’t belong at the Olympics due to a lack of parity.
While those opinions are largely unfair - parity certainly isn’t a requirement for Olympic inclusion; just ask any Usain Bolt adversary - they do underline an underwhelming overall response to the tournament.
With the tournament now over, let’s take a look at what happened.
Parity isn’t required to enjoy the elite rivalry between team USA and Canada. The two powers met in the gold medal game with Canada exacting revenge for their 2018 loss, winning 3-2 in Beijing. Canada captain Marie-Philip Poulin scored the golden goal, her record fourth. Finland took down Switzerland 4-0 to win the Bronze medal.
What we learned:
That we’re long overdue for a professional women’s league that gets proper air time and support. People will watch when the quality is there and it’s available. The US-Canada gold medal game on NBC averaged 3.54 million viewers, which is more than any NHL game this season. It also makes it the second most-watched hockey game in the US since 2019. Nearly 13 million watched the game in Canada.
With greater opportunities comes development, which is something the women’s game needs on an international scale. The men’s World Junior Hockey tournament used to be a tournament of four teams - Canada, USA, Russia, and Sweden - and now due to development opportunities, teams like Finland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and others are competitive. The Premier Hockey Federation is a great start for the women’s game and has the foundations to bloom with the right support. As international players join, competitiveness will rise. We all need to support this.
Finland beat the ROC for gold - its first ever. Slovakia earned their first tournament medal in their history by besting Sweden for bronze.
Powerhouses Canada and the US bowed out in the quarterfinals.
The cache wasn’t the same without NHL players, but it wasn’t a ringer tournament, either. With future NHL stars like Owen Power and Matthew Knies getting a chance when they wouldn’t otherwise, fans got a glimpse of what’s to come.
What we learned:
That a best-on-best tournament should have the best players. That doesn’t necessarily mean it has to be at the Olympics - seeing professionals get a shot on the international stage who would never otherwise is great to see. But the hockey world needs a regular best-on-best tournament. The last such tournament happened in 2014 at the Sochi Olympics and that’s far too long.
Consider this: Connor McDavid and Auston Matthews have never played at the Olympics.
The NHL powers that be need to get out of their own way and commit to the Olympics every four years or ramp up an actual World Cup - not the Mickey Mouse one they put on in 2016 that included Team Europe and Team North America. Whichever they choose, build it up properly and have it be meaningful. The sport needs it.
Links from the Rink
Knoxy and Kax: Check out the brand new podcast focusing on women’s hockey
Silver Medal, Not Silver Lining: US women come up short
Death, Taxes, and a Golden Goal: Marie-Philip Poulin scores fourth golden goal
Gold for Finland: Fins take advantage of diminished men’s field
2026 Optimism: NHLers back at the Olympics?