GANGNEUNG, South Korea (AP) - The women’s hockey tournament will be expanded from eight teams to 10 for the 2022 Olympics in Beijing and the head of the International Ice Hockey Federation says he believes the talent gap between the North American powerhouse teams and the rest of the world will close much faster than it took on the men’s side of the game.
IIHF President Rene Fasel confirmed the move Monday and said it was made at the request of Beijing Olympics organizers.
“I think the women are coming closer,” Fasel said.
The IIHF already has announced expanding the 2019 world championships to 10 teams, and IIHF council chairwoman Zsuzsanna Kolbenheyer said the quality of women’s hockey around the world is good enough for this step. She pointed to Japan beating Sweden 2-1 in overtime Sunday in the classification round and no team scoring more than eight goals in a game as signs of progress.
“In Sochi, the first result was 9-0, and we now have here 8-0 both for the Korean team, so we can say that women’s hockey developed a lot in the last eight and four years compared to Vancouver and Sochi,” Kolbenheyer said.
In 2010, Canada routed Slovakia 18-0. The combined Korean team opened these games with an 8-0 loss to Switzerland but played much better a week later in a 2-0 loss to the same country.
Kolbenheyer also noted standout play by several young players in this tournament, including Switzerland’s Alina Muller, 19, who had four goals in her Olympic opener, and Anna Shokhina of the Russian team. She had three goals and two assists in four games.
“If we could continue like that, I think we can get to the next level for the next Olympics,” Kolbenheyer said.
Beijing will be the seventh Olympics with women’s hockey since it was added in 1998 in Nagano. Either the United States or Canada has won the gold medal each time, and the Americans are back in the final again after a 5-0 win over Finland , the world’s third-ranked team last year.
Canada and the U.S. have met in the final at every Olympics except 2006, when Sweden upset the Americans in the semifinals. The U.S. won bronze.
Kolbenheyer said the 2019 world championships with 10 teams will be a test event for the IIHF to see how the format works.
“We will keep the structure we have at that tournament as well, and then we will see if we would like to change it for Beijing,” she said.
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