Late last week the 4 day summit on the state of hockey on various levels and both the men's and woman's games drew to a close. The day 4 focus was where the game is more so internationally in the woman's game. We all know that there are really just 2 teams at the top of the mountain, Canada and the USA then there are the rest. Sure there are some countries that are making some great strides over the last few years to make their woman's programs a little more competitive but there is still a big gap. The big question continues to be how big is this gap and is there enough ground being made up on a year by year basis by the lesser countries to make woman's hockey a viable option in the Olympics.
It is great when you are Canadian and you know that the worst you are going to finish is 2nd but if it all goes by the waste side what is the point. When you get 2 good teams like Canada and the USA play you get a good game and they put on a good product. If the other countries can make a solid effort and keep growing then the game will make it on its own merit and this won't be an issue after the next Olympics.
The woman are looking to create a strong "pro league" and that can only help grow not only the sport but the overall awareness and maybe get more players involved at younger ages if they know that there is actually something to aspire to and shoot for. I look at a woman's North American Pro League like that of junior hockey. When we see players on the national team, either on the USA or Canada we can choose our favorites but after that tournament they are gone from our sports viewing. if they went back to club teams then you can follow them better and become fans. It is similar to professional wrestling, in the past there were all these regional promotions and splinter cells all around. Then they were all eventually absorbed into bigger more national entities. then you get a WCW/WWE type production which is big. Bigger names, more recognisable players and teams and a stronger more structured set up (provided that it is done correctly). I think that there would be a market for that and with the right amount of team in the right markets it could not grow the game and thrive but help good players from other countries have a chance to not only play with better players but also and maybe more importantly practice with better players and coaches.
I like the men's game for the tough and skilled play, but I also like the woman's game with little or no hitting because it make the game faster and more free flowing. the less contact the less obstruction and the faster the pace. The skill can still be there and tempers can still get high but it doesn't happen as often or needlessly. If there are 2 things that I just can't stand is every time there is a whistle that all the players have to skate into a pile and start face-washing each other and the other is every time a player gets hit there has to be a fight. Even if the hit is clean players seem to think that everything needs to looked at as being predatory and "If you are a good teammate you'll stick up for your guy". What a load of crap...clean is clean, just play the game. It is a collision game, collisions will happen.
Both men's and woman's games have pros and cons but one thing they have in common is they both deserve to stay as Olympic Sports.