Watching this morning’s Classification game at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi between the German and Japanese Women’s Hockey teams was a lesson in passion and determination. This was not a game for a medal. This was not a game for the chance to stand on a podium. And because these are women athletes, this wasn’t even a game for million dollar contracts or recognition by a professional team. This was for the love of the game and for the right to claim the win.
The second thing that becomes clear is that without the ability to body check—which is allowed only in the men’s games—the stick and puck handling skills are all the more important. Without such skills, it becomes impossible to get the puck out of a team’s defensive zone and be able to make offensive plays.
The larger ice surface combined with the lack of allowed body contact offers a view of the sport of hockey that is sometimes overshadowed when the men are banging each other in the corners and in front of the crease. The use of the sticks and the importance of smart tape-to-tape passes become all the more important.
The game was a lot of back and forth with each team claiming the momentum from time to time, especially in the first period. While Japan was outshooting Germany on net, Germany had goalie Viona Harrer between the pipes. Going into the game her save percentage was above .930 and she had one shutout.
For Japan, their goalie, Nana Fujimoto came into the game under the .900 save percentage. Unfortunately for her, the penalties that her team would take proved costly, as Germany got their first two goals via the power play. However, it was the third goal by Germany at the end of the second, where she again struggled with her glove save and she would be pulled and backup goalie Akane Konishi would go in to finish the game.
The shots on goal for the first two periods favored the Japanese, which is where the strong save percentage of Harrer helped her team remain in the game. Harrer did struggle with a few rebounds, and it was one of those rebounds that allowed the Japanese to tie the game in the first period. However, the Germans were then able to keep the Japanese off the scoreboard until early in the third.
Because body checking is not allowed in women’s ice hockey, it was quite a bit of a surprise to watch Japan’s Tomoe Yamane, who was called for checking, in a move that in the National Hockey League is called “boarding” as she came up behind Germany’s Andrea Lanzl, whose body was bent, head slightly down, facing the boards, and checked her into the boards.
It is such dangerous hits that the NHL is trying to get removed form the professional game, and in a game where body checking isn’t allowed at any time, it was surprising to see Yamane get only a two minute penalty for such a hit. Fortunately Lanzl did get up, though it looked like she was slightly shaken up by the hit and the awkward way her head and neck contacted the boards.
For much of this game, the Japanese players had the better players and had more of the momentum. However, as has been proven many times, the team with the great goalie can often steal a game. And in some ways that is what happened to Japan as they were ultimately defeated by just one goal in their game against Germany.
Admiration for the perseverance of these women was evident of those who were present during the game. But when you consider that many of these women have full time jobs to allow them to continue their hockey dreams, that really speak to their love of the sport.