Western rink hosts Worlds
By Alex Chiang
She shoots, she scores will be the appropriate phrase tonight, as Thompson Arena plays host to some of the best female hockey players in the world. At stake when Sweden and the United States hit the ice is more than just the 1997 World Women's Hockey Championship title, but a berth in the 1998 Winter Olympics being held in Nagano, Japan.
Coming to town is the second-seeded U.S. which is experienced and one of the few teams that can compete with Canada, the three-time defending champions. The Americans, however, face a challenge in Sweden, the tournament's third seed and the defending European champion.
"It'll be a good test of our skill," American head coach Ben Smith said. "We haven't seen Sweden since last August when we beat them in Lake Placid, but that was a close game."
It will be the final round-robin game for the two teams and both want to go into the playoffs on a winning note. The U.S. needs a victory to secure a first-round bye, while Sweden, currently tied for third, doesn't want to finish last and play number-one seed Canada in the first round.
London organizers jumped at the prospect of holding a round-robin game in the city, when approached by the Kitchener officials who made the bid as the host city of the tournament.
"I think London was a good choice to host the event, since it has the largest girl's hockey association in Canada," Lorraine Dewar, co-chair of the event's satellite committee, said. "We didn't have a choice as to which game would be played here, but we're very happy and excited to have drawn what will be a crucial game."
Dewar says that approximately 2,000 tickets have been sold and that they are expecting a total attendance of about 3,000.
"We got word out of the event to people in Windsor, Woodstock and even the states," she said. "We're expecting lots of media from the U.S. since the tournament is being held pretty close to the border."
London is one of six satellite locations to Kitchener that will each host one round-robin game, the others being Brampton, Brantford, Hamilton, Mississauga and North York.
This is the fourth ever World Women's Hockey Championship and it is the second time it is being played in Canada. The inaugural competition was held in Ottawa in 1990.
The results of the tournament have increased importance this time around, as they have a direct bearing on qualifying for next year's Winter Olympics. For the first time, women's ice hockey will be an official medal event and the top five teams will be allowed to participate in Japan.
Smith, who will coach the American team at Nagano, is excited at the prospects of winning an Olympic medal and feels the popularity of women's hockey is on the upswing.
"Anyone who's been reading the papers can tell you that women's hockey is getting more publicity," he said. "Being recognized by the Olympics represents the crowning achievement for the growth of the sport."
Tickets are still available at $8 each and can be purchased at the Thompson Arena box office. Face-off is at 7 p.m.