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IIHF Women's World Championships are Underway

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Ah, women's hockey.  The beleaguered half of the international hockey world, without a top professional league and facing the brunt end of all the problems of the game in Europe in general.  Women's hockey's growth in North America is well documented, and while there are still issues in getting ice time throughout the continent, the participation rates keep climbing and the sport has a visible presence thanks to the elite athletes like Hayley Wickenheiser and Angela Ruggiero. 

Looming over the sport is the stagnant growth of the sport in Europe and Asia.  The 1998 Olympics, which saw the introduction of the discipline for the first time, are well in the past, and the initial boost it gave nations like Japan and China have largely faded.  In Europe, the challenges of building new arenas have allowed national federations in hockey nations to ignore the women's game:  if there's barely enough ice time for the boys, they aren't interested in getting girls involved. 

So while the 2011 Women's World Championship program will feature the World Championship debut of four new nations with the addition of a fifth division, no one is making measured progress towards challenging the North American lock on the sport at the top. 

But, it's another year, and maybe we'll see some players emerge from Europe and Asia that make us think there's progress being made.  While only fourteen nations participate in the Women's Worlds U18 tournaments, thirty-seven will participate in the senior tournament.  The sport needs to make noticeable gains in the coming three years, or unfairly, it could see its status as an Olympic event revoked.

Here's a calendar for the six tournaments:

2011 IIHF Women's World Championship Calendar
Level Host Dates Participants
Division 3 Newcastle, AUS Feb. 1-6 Au_medium Be_medium Hr_medium Hu_medium Nl_medium Si_medium
Division 5 Sofia, BUL March 14-19 Bg_medium Es_medium Ie_medium Pl_medium Tr_medium
Division 4 Reykjavik, ISL March 27-April 1 Is_medium Kr_medium Nz_medium Ro_medium Za_medium
Division 2 Caen, FRA April 4-10 Cz_medium Dk_medium Fr_medium Gb_medium It_medium Kp_medium
Division 1 Ravensburg, GER April 11-17 At_medium Cn_medium De_medium Jp_medium Lv_medium No_medium
Championship Zürich/Winterthur, SUI April 15-24 Ca_medium Fi_medium Kz_medium Ru_medium Ch_medium Sk_medium Se_medium Us_medium

As you can see, the Division 3 tournament has already taken place, as for some inexplicable reason the IIHF held a hockey tournament in Australia in early February.  I can't imagine how much of a challenge that had to have been, though I'm sure the athletes loved the sun.  The Division 5 tournament is ongoing right now in Bulgaria, who made their international debut in the 2010 Olympic qualifiers in late 2009, making headlines for the wrong reasons

Unlike the men, there was no IIHF Women's World Championships last year, as they used the Olympics as the only measurement of the hockey programs last year.  To see the 2010 World Ranking, check out the IIHF website here.  I've cut the 2007 World Championships from the list to make this pre-2011 Ranking:

Pre-2011 IIHF Women's World Ranking
Rank Country Points 2011 Tournament
1 Canada 1770 Championship
2 United States of America 1770 Championship
3 Finland 1680 Championship
4 Sweden 1640 Championship
5 Switzerland 1580 Championship
6 Russia 1570 Championship
7 China 1505 Division 1
8 Kazakhstan 1475 Championship
9 Japan 1460 Division 1
10 Slovakia 1450 Championship
11 Germany 1395 Division 1
12 Norway 1340 Division 1
13 Czech Republic 1315 Division 2
14 France 1285 Division 2
15 Latvia 1250 Division 1
16 Austria 1230 Division 1
17 Great Britain 1180 Division 2
18 Italy 1170 Division 2
19 Croatia 735 Division 3
20 Slovenia 725 Division 3
21 North Korea 595 Division 2
22 Denmark 570 Division 2
23 The Netherlands 545 Division 3
24 Bulgaria 540 Division 5
25 Australia 180 Division 3
26 Belgium 160 Division 3
27 Hungary 155 Division 3
28 South Korea 150 Division 4
29 Iceland 145 Division 4
30 New Zealand 140 Division 4
31 Romania 135 Division 4
32 Estonia 130 Division 4
33 South Africa 125 Division 4
34 Turkey 120 Division 5
N/A Ireland 0 Division 5
N/A Poland 0 Division 5
N/A Spain 0 Division 5


Division 3 Results:  1.  The Netherlands, 2. Australia, 3.  Hungary, 4.  Slovenia, 5.  Croatia, 6.  Belgium

Division 5 Games:  Poland 23, Ireland 0; Bulgaria 2, Turkey 1; Spain 7, Turkey 0; Poland 19, Bulgaria 0.

Wednesday's Division 5 Games:  Turkey 3, Ireland 0; Bulgaria vs. Spain