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    Tuesday, February 10, 1998

    Female hockey 'competition' is a travesty

    By TERRY JONES -- Edmonton Sun
      NAGANO -- If it wasn't for one itsy-bitsy, teensy-weensy, tiny little fact, one would be tempted to suggest that the women's hockey teams be sent home on the same planes that brought the NHL teams to the Olympics yesterday.
     That itsy-bitsy, teensy-weensy, tiny little fact is that in the very first Olympic Winter Games in Chamonix, France, in 1924, hockey was one of the original sports. And Canada beat Switzerland 33-0, Czechoslovakia 30-0, Sweden 22-0 and Great Britain 19-2.
     Please remember that itsy-bitsy, teensy-weensy, tiny little fact as we proceed with this piece.
     What we've seen so far is that women's hockey doesn't belong in the Olympics. Not now. Probably not in 2002. Maybe not even by 2006.
     This tournament is a travesty.
     Canada scored a 2-0 win over China yesterday morning. Almost a thriller. Except if there was a time of possession statistic in hockey it would have been about 55 minutes to five.
     You think the neutral-zone trap and the left-wing lock make NHL hockey tough to watch these days? Try "the Great Wall Of China." Try 60 minutes of penalty killing by China - regardless of whether or not they happen to have a penalty.
     Canada outshot China 13-3, 19-1 and 8-4 by period. That's 40-8 over 60 minutes.
     "China plays a five-man box,'' said Canadian coach Shannon Miller. "We played a couple of 1-0 games with them in '95 and another in '96. And we had 40 to 60 shots in all those games.
     "This fall we played them again and they actually came out of the box and played hockey. We beat them with a six- or seven-goal difference. We expected them to go back to the five-man box.
     "It's like penalty killing. You do your best to get by.''
     She wasn't criticizing the coach from China. Just the opposite.
     "If I were coaching his team against our team, that's exactly what I would do,'' she said. "I think it's a good strategy. I don't think they had a lot of choice. Sure, I'd do it. Absolutely.''
     Not pretty to watch. Nothing at this venue, so far, has been worth watching.
     The Canadians opened with a 13-0 win over Japan. They outshot the host country 54-10.
     In another early game here yesterday, the Americans defeated Sweden 7-1. The shots were 47-3. The Hockey Night In Canada boys had it 49-1. That's right. The Swedes made that one shot count. Their shots on goal were 68-4.
     I spent most of yesterday up at curling before I came down for the Canada-China game at night. Curling has been trying to get into the Olympics for years but was kept out because it was a game, they said, that the winter world didn't play. Finally it's a full-medal sport. Following are the scores for the first day of action in curling: 7-6, 6-5, 7-5, 8-2, 6-5, 9-2, 8-5, 9-3, 7-4, 4-2, 7-4 and 6-2.
     So far these are the scores of the women's hockey games: 6-0, 13-0, 5-0, 11-1, 7-1 and that 2-0 abomination we watched yesterday.
     There are teams here that can't complete a pass, that can't make a shot on goal. At least one team, probably two and maybe three couldn't compete at the Quebec Winter Carnival's famed peewee tournament.
     "Japan, certainly,'' said Hockey Night In Canada commentator John Garrett.
     Garrett, like most hockey men, rates the level of play of the Canadian and U.S. women's teams at either midget or bantam AA, depending on the day. Which is OK, I guess. But the rest can't compete.
     "It has to evolve past the point where teams have only three people who can shoot and three people who can pass the puck,'' says Garrett.
     "Japan has nobody who can pass the puck. Sweden has nobody who can shoot the puck.''
     This tournament is about two teams and two games. The last game of the round robin, already being called the Valentine's Day Mascara, and the inevitable final between Canada and the United States.
     An Olympic tournament should be better than that. Much, much better than that.
     But then there's that itsy-bitsy, teensy-weensy, tiny little fact.