Posted: Monday February 13, 2006 3:39PM; Updated: Monday February 13, 2006 9:55PM
Angela Ruggiero is concerned about the competitive imbalance in women's Olympic hockey.
Jim McIsaac/Getty Images
TURIN, Italy -- Team USA defenseman Angela Ruggiero, who would know the score even if she weren't a cum laude graduate of Harvard, ripped Canada for running it up against its first two opponents in the Olympic women's hockey tournament.
Ruggiero, a three-time Olympian, was especially critical of the 16 goals Team Canada pumped past Italy in its opener, a prelude to the dozen the defending Olympic champions scored against Russia 24 hours later.
"I'm upset that Canada has been running up the score, especially against the host nation," Ruggiero told SI.com on Monday. "There was no need for that. They're trying to pad their stats ... Canada is running up the score for whatever reasons -- personal, short-term."
Ruggiero assailed the Americans' archrival because she realizes women's hockey, in its third Olympics, is still relatively fragile because of the competitive imbalance. The Americans and Canadians have yet to lose to anyone except each other in Olympic play, hardly surprising considering that neither nation has lost to any of the second-tier countries in the history of the sport. Canada is 120-0-2 while the U.S. is 59-0-2 in international matches that didn't involve the other women's hockey superpower.
"It does hurt our sport when one team is so dominant," said the 26-year-old Ruggiero, whose team scored six and five goals, respectively, in opening shutouts of Switzerland and Germany. "Beating Russia 12-0 after the Italy game, that doesn't help. If Italy had any hopes, or if their federation was thinking of helping women's hockey, well, this probably shattered them after the first game. They'll say, 'How are we ever going to beat those guys?' If you don't have a shot of ever getting there, why not invest in another sport?"
There are roughly 400 registered women hockey players in Italy compared to 65,000 in Canada and 50,000 in the U.S.
"I would love to see Finland or Sweden make a final," she said. "Not when I'm playing, but eventually. We need that."
The disparity between the top two teams and the rest of the hockey field is alarming given the International Olympic Committee's reaffirmation last week that softball, a sport that has been mastered by only a handful of nations, would end its Olympic run in Beijing. While the quality of women's hockey has improved in some European countries since the first Olympic tournament in 1998 -- the Swedes are notably faster and fitter -- there remains a gap that is unlikely to narrow soon. Although nations such as Russia and the Czech Republic have formidable hockey infrastructures, there is little interest in the women's game in those countries.
"I don't understand why countries that have great men's teams don't have great women's teams, because the facilities and knowledge are already in place," Ruggiero said. "Yes, it's a huge investment, but Russia could have a great [women's] program if it wanted. You have to give our sport equal resources, but for them to put women on an equal footing with men, it's tough. It's a cultural thing. They don't have Title IX over there. These countries have to get their younger players to the States, get them playing four years of college hockey, and that might help. But their federations have to put more money in it."