Friday, February 19, 2010

Tiger and women's Olympic hockey (no, not like that)

So because the sports world is all abuzz about Tiger's statement earlier today, I feel like I'll chime in, however briefly. First, anyone who wanted/wants Tiger to answer questions, whatever those may be, are basically shock journalist and voyeurs. Tiger doesn't need to answer any questions about any of this. It is entirely a personal matter, and if you say he sacrificed that when he became the most known athlete on the planet, I call bullshit. Success and a celebrity do not strip you of the basic tenets of privacy.

There will invariably now be lots of "was he sincere" debates going on. I don't see any way that you can argue that he isn't. The fact that he's clearly putting getting his life back on track in front of coming back to golf is proof enough that he's taking this seriously and is showing genuine contrition. How many athletes in similar situations would say, "I need to make myself a better person and can only do that by returning my life to normalcy."? Woods is putting his career aside entirely to get his life in order. Although that line of scripted hugs after the statement was a little hokey.

Women's Olympic hockey
I've been watching as much Olympic hockey as I can, including women's ice hockey which is the very definition of a two-team race. The American and Canadian women's teams are light years beyond their competition. The American women's goals for-goals against is a staggering 31-1 through three games while the Canadian women's goals for-goals against is even worse through three, at 41-2. We know what the gold medal game is going to be. At this point, it's a turtle's race to the bronze.

The one thing that women's hockey needs to do to alleviate some of these ridiculous blowouts is to finally allowing checking. If there's anything I've learned from spending my last four years in "non-contact" adult leagues, it's that defending highly skilled players in space without being able to check is really, really difficult. I couldn't even begin to imagine doing that on an Olympic sheet of ice. (Scratch that. One of the sheets of ice at the Ann Arbor Ice Cube where I skated for a time is Olympic sized. It's quite difficult.)

What checking does is it essentially limits the room on the ice. When you can't check, a player can skate the puck into the corner of the offensive zone and dipsy doodle around until someone is open if he/she is skilled enough. Moving the puck through and around a defenders stick/skates is very difficult, but is not an unprecedented skill. If you're able to check and a player heads to the corner with the puck, you pin him/her along the boards and wait for help/take the puck yourself. The American and Canadian women's teams are so well coached and are so skilled that it looks like pros playing with amateurs when in fact, some of the other countries are not too far off skillwise but may not have the coaching to utilize/defend this space.

This isn't meant to be a way for the rest of the world to catch up, per say, but it is an addition to the game that would make it more even. There's a significant premium put on skill players in non-hitting leagues because of their ability to make fancy moves around players. The way to neutralizes this normally is by laying a body on them, and if you take that away, you start to see the kinds of 18-0 scores that Canada put up earlier in the Olympics.


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