This morning—last night to people in saner time zones—the Germany and Japan women’s ice hockey teams met for their penultimate Olympic performances. Both teams were eliminated from the medals race before the match even started. So, some may wonder, why bother paying attention to this game, and these teams, at all?
Well, for one thing, Japan and Germany certainly didn’t play like teams who had been eliminated from medal contention. Germany was a little quicker than Japan, but Japan proved to have formidable puck handling skills and took some really good runs at the German goal in the first period.
Japan’s goalie, Nana Fujimoto—who I admire both for her taste in mask artwork and her impressive athleticism—was a key player throughout the game. Germany and Japan were well matched in shots on goal, but Germany was undoubtedly taking better shots on goal, and the score differential by the end of the game could have been disastrous if not for Fujimoto’s dexterity and skill.
Germany got on the board with 6:37 left in the first, thanks to a slapper from the blue line from Manuela Anwander; 48 seconds into the second period Germany did it again. Franziska Bushca exercised her powerful backhand and increased Germany’s lead to 2-0 over Japan.
Japan had some great breakaways—but failed to turn any of them into scoring opportunities.
In the final minutes of the game, Kerstin Spielberger scored for Germany, turning it into a 3-0 game. Japan pulled Fujimoto—why, I can’t tell you, there’s no way they’re making up for that point differential—and Buscha sank an empty netter to earn her second goal of the game. Germany came away with the win, 4-0, over Japan.
As I mentioned before, both teams are out of the medal race. They go on now to play Sunday to determine their final rankings overall.
I think you should watch.
A few days ago I was involved in a discussion online with other hockey fans, and at one point a fellow fan said she didn’t believe that the poor performance of the German women’s ice hockey team was inspiring any little girls back home in Germany to pick up a hockey stick.
I told her I hoped she was wrong about that.
It’s easy to get swept up in the thrill of your country competition for a medal, and medals are, of course, important. For some athletes it’s the only tangible glory they can achieve to recognize a peak in their career.
However, with an event as young as women’s ice hockey—and in Olympic years, women’s ice hockey is till a fledgling sport—it can be just as important to pay attention to the teams who don’t medal, who deserve appreciation and admiration just for getting to the Olympics.
Representation matters. Maybe to the well-versed hockey fan, Germany’s performance is a personal disappointment. But to a small child who maybe sees something of her self in the athletes representing Germany, Japan, Russia and Sweden, there might not be the immediate disappointment associated with a lifetime of understanding winning is most important. Maybe there’s just a moment of awe or wonder that someone who looks like her, who plays hockey like her, is in the Olympics.
Team Japan has been the happiest group of athletes I think I’ve ever seen. They’ve taken pictures everywhere, and are smiling, wide and joyful, in every one of them. They’re revealing in just being at the Olympics. And they should. For a team like Japan, who had to scrape their way into qualifying for the games at all, reaching Sochi is a victory all in itself. And who are we to take that away from them? Or the girls who may look up to them?
Japan won’t medal.
But I think they still won.