Host City: Sochi, Russia
Venue(s): Bolshoy Ice Dome, Adler; Shayba Arena, Adler
Date Started: February 8, 2014
Date Finished: February 20, 2014
Format: Round-robin pool, followed by classification matches.
As had been the case since women’s hockey made its Olympic debut in 1998, Canada and the United States were the heavy favorites and the best-ranked teams in the world by a significant margin. The Canadians had the last three Olympic gold medals under their belt and were the 2012 world champions. The United States, meanwhile, were the 2011 and 2013 world champions. Below them in the rankings were Finland, Switzerland, Sweden, and Russia (who qualified as hosts), while Japan and Germany earned their tickets to the Games at the 2013 Olympic Qualification Tournament.
Responding to criticism that women’s hockey was not competitive enough, a format change was introduced wherein the top four teams were placed in Group A, while the remaining nations were sent to Group B. The top two teams from Group B would face the bottom two from Group A in the quarterfinals, while the bottom two of Group B were eliminated. This had several important ramifications. Firstly, the system succeeded in its intended effect and the double-digit shutouts or near-shutouts that characterized round robin play in 2010 were avoided; only one match was won by a margin greater than five goals. Secondly, Switzerland, who failed to win a single game in Group A, advanced to the final round and managed to progress to the semifinals by defeating Russia , the Group B winner. Perhaps most importantly, however, this new format meant that Canada and the United States met in the group stage at the Olympics for the first time since 1998, when there was only one main pool.
To no one’s surprise, Canada and the United States came out on top in their round robin pool, with Canada besting the Americans 3-2 in their match. Group B was won by Russia and Sweden, the latter of whom defeated Finland in the quarterfinals to meet the United States, against whom they lost 6-1. Switzerland, meanwhile, challenged Canada and held them to a 3-1 win, the smallest margin of victory for Canada against a non-American team at the Olympics. Determined to prove that this was no fluke, Switzerland defeated Sweden in the bronze medal match 4-3, a considerable result for a nation that had failed to win a single match in the round robin and earned its first and only world championship medal, bronze, in 2012. It also became only the fifth nation (after the United States, Canada, Finland, and Sweden) to win an Olympic medal in women’s hockey.
The main matchup, however, was for the gold medal, and it went down as one of the best hockey matches – male or female – of all time. Unlike the 2010 Winter Olympics, which was decided in the first period, the 2014 edition was scoreless until over halfway into the second period, when Meghan Duggan of the United States drew first blood. The third period began poorly for the Canadians, who succumbed to Alex Carpenter (daughter of NHL standout Bobby Carpenter) after two minutes and, with less than five minutes to go, it seemed that the American victory was assured. In a surprising twist, however, Brianne Jenner and Marie-Philip Poulin undertook back-to-back drives (the latter with an empty Canadian net) and tied the game, drawing the two rival nations into sudden death overtime. After eight tense minutes, Poulin, who had secured Canada’s victory in Vancouver, repeated this feat in Sochi and scored during a brief interval of double power play. In less than 15 minutes, the Canadians had come back from certain defeat to dazzling victory and earned their 19th straight win in Olympic matches. Having also taken the curling tournament earlier in the day, Canada’s women celebrated their status as Olympic champions in both of their national winter sports. Hayley Wickenheiser and Jayna Hefford had additional cause to celebrate\: not only were they participating in their fifth Olympics (having appeared in every women’s tournament since they began in 1998), but they also won their fifth Olympic medal, a record for either men’s or women’s hockey. Caroline Ouellette, meanwhile, joined them in receiving a record fourth ice hockey gold medal (again, for men and women), having participated in every tournament since 2002.