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:
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:
|2||United States of America||1770||Championship|
|13||Czech Republic||1315||Division 2|
|17||Great Britain||1180||Division 2|
|21||North Korea||595||Division 2|
|23||The Netherlands||545||Division 3|
|28||South Korea||150||Division 4|
|30||New Zealand||140||Division 4|
|33||South Africa||125||Division 4|
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