In Canada, where hockey isn’t so much a sport as a way of life, the hockey tournament is being billed by some as the Olympic event to watch. With nearly 175,000 registered adult hockey players and six National Hockey League teams, Canada has a wealth of talent to pull from for its 2010 team. In addition, both Canada and the US will benefit from the smaller North American court size, which favors aggressive tactics over endurance and finesse.
Who to watch
Team Canada (Men’s) (see video)
In addition to having the home court advantage, the 2010 Canadian team will be tough, physical, and skilled. Of the three goaltenders the Canucks are sending to Vancouver, Olympic gold medalist Martin Brodeur is expected to be the No. 1 choice.
The American women have assembled consistently strong hockey teams since women's hockey was first admitted as an official Olympic event in 1998. In that year, American women won gold, while in 2002 the team brought home silver. This year, they're looking to improve on their bronze-medal performance at the 2006 Torino Games.
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Members of eight women’s teams and 12 men’s teams advance via round-robin competition. Only six players may be on the ice at a time, and teams score points by shooting the puck into the opposing team's goal. The top teams of these qualification rounds will advance to the semifinals.
Athletes play three 20-minute periods, pausing for 15 minutes after each the first and second rounds. If there's a tie, teams of four skaters and one goalkeeper play a sudden-death overtime period.
To allow for more spectators, the 2010 Olympic ice hockey games will played using North American-regulation sized rinks, which are four meters (13.1 feet) narrower than international rinks.
Students at McGill University in Montreal are credited with the organization of modern ice hockey. In 1879, the students organized the recreational activity of pushing a snowball around an icy pond into an indoor sport with rules structured on those of polo, lacrosse, and rugby. Between the 1880s and 1920s, hockey played by Montreal rules spread throughout North America, Europe, and Russia.
At first, ice hockey was a summer Olympic event, appearing at the 1920 games in Antwerp but was re-categorized as a winter sport for the 1924 Games. Women’s hockey is still fairly young Olympic sport, having first appeared at the 1998 Nagano Games.
Sources: nbcolympics.com, vancouver2010.com, teamusa.org, International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF)