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Unlike four years ago, when the International Olympic Committee talked openly about eliminating women's hockey from the Games, International Ice Hockey Federation president Rene Fasel "guaranteed" that women's hockey was no longer on the Olympics endangered list and, in fact, said it was his goal to expand the field for the women's tournament to ten teams by the 2022 Winter Olympics.
Speaking at a press conference with NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr, Fasel said that a couple of blowouts notwithstanding, the overall calibre of women's hockey has improved dramatically since 2010 in Vancouver, when both Canada and the United States crushed their opponents in the opening round of the tournament.
Interestingly, it was Bettman – sitting beside Fasel – who raised the question about the place of women's hockey in the Olympics, saying "on behalf of the NHL, we would be distressed" if it was eliminated.
To which Fasel replied: "That will never happen. I can guarantee you that."
According to Fasel, the primary problem with the gaps in the women's game remains the participation numbers. He said there were 80,000 registered female players in Canada and another 60,000 in the United States, while most countries in Europe and Asia had fewer than 5,000 players.
"That makes a huge difference," said Fasel. "But together with USA Hockey and Hockey Canada, we really worked together with a mentor program and invested into clinics and training camps for goalies. We invested over two million Swiss francs from Vancouver until now. I was personally the chairman of the women's committee, so we push them."
In part because of a format change, there have been far fewer blowouts here. In Vancouver, Canada won its first three games by a combined score of 41-2 over Slovakia, Switzerland and Sweden respectively. The U.S. won games over China and Russia by a combined 25-0 margin.
In Sochi, the team that provided the most promise of an upset, Finland, was itself upset in the qualification round. Ultimately, Canada advanced to the final with a 3-1 win over Switzerland, while the Americans won a 6-1 verdict over Sweden, a game in which they held a 70-9 edge in shots on goal.
Canada will play the U.S. in the women's final on Thursday, the fourth time in five years that the two teams will meet in the gold-medal game. Canada has won the last three.
"It's much better, but we are not there yet," said Fasel. "I really hope in Pyeongchang, we will have a better result, but we have to work hard.
"We need time. Give me a little more time."
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