By Kristen Lipscombe
The Canadian and American squads may have plenty of depth, experience and exposure on their sides, but the
underdog women’s hockey teams are more than ready to play catch up.
Teams such as Sweden and Finland are using their lack of experience in global hockey competition to their
advantage. They may not have the seasoned veterans that compose the North American squads, but both teams
have young, skilled and vibrant players with as much passion for the sport as any hockey champion.
players on Team Sweden, for instance, combine for an average age of 21 years old. Compare that to an average
age of about 28 years old on Team Canada and it becomes clear that the Swedes are a skilled and youthful
squad with a very promising future.
Team Sweden has consistently placed in the top four during international tournaments. In the 2002 Salt
Lake City Olympics, the team defeated rivals Team Finland for the bronze medal. Additionally, Sweden has
managed a fourth place finish five separate times in World Women’s Hockey Championship action (including at
this year’s tournament).
Fifteen-year-old forward Pernilla Winberg is the team’s youngest player. She is also the second youngest
player to participate in the 2004 World Women’s Hockey Championship.
This is Winberg’s first time ever participating in the Championship – she is one of eight rookies to play
for Team Sweden this year.
Assistant Captain Gunilla Andersson, on the other hand, has played for Sweden’s national team since 1992.
The 24-year-old veteran defender has played 165 national games since that time, and has been on Team Sweden
longer than any of her teammates.
“The whole game has been developed,” commented Andersson on the growth of women’s hockey in her country.
“In Sweden the team has been younger and younger every year. More girls play.”
She said that over time, the women’s hockey program in Sweden has become increasingly developed and
“I think everyone is more technical with the puck,” said Andersson. “We are
skating better and passing the puck better.” Female hockey players in Sweden
are also becoming more physically aggressive, she added.
“Now most of the girls start when they’re pretty young,” remarked Andersson.
“That was not the case before. “So I think everyone who started playing now will probably be on the national
team in ten years.”
If Sweden is able to maintain the majority of its roster over the next ten years, this means that the team
will have a mature and highly skilled team both at the 2006 Olympic Games in Turin and the 2010 Olympics in
Andersson thinks if her team can improve their skating speed and overall physical game, Team Sweden may be
able reach Canada’s caliber on the ice within two or three years.
“Canada is the powerhouse of women’s hockey,” said Swedish head coach Peter Elander. “They have seven more
years experience on each player.”
He said his team’s experience can be both beneficial and detrimental. “When you’re that age you sometimes
look at your own experience (rather) than the
team. People can be annoyed with what they did themselves because they are not mature enough.”
“On the other hand, there is a lot of energy in the young kids and they forget the mistakes and feel they
can be so good,” added Elander.
Elander is satisfied with the performance of some of his younger players, such as Winberg and blueliner
Jenni Asserholt, at the tournament. He said those players were, however, a little intimidated when playing in
the larger arenas, at least during the first few games.
“They have to be stronger, so they can skate with heavy weight Canadian players,” said Elander, but added,
the girls play on special teams and have been performing well overall.
Winberg said it “feels very good” to be on the team and is “just happy to be on the ice.” She appreciates
the encouragement and friendship of her older team mates and looks forward to representing Sweden at the
Olympics. Elander pointed out that in their 9-1 exhibition loss to Canada, Sweden’s starting line-up had an
average age of 16.2 years old. The youngsters faced off against the strength of Hayley Wickenheiser’s
talented Canadian line – and that is certainly an achievement in itself.
“The puck wasn’t in the Swedish end that shift,” said Elander.
“It was in the middle zone and a little bit in the Canadian zone. So if the
young kids can have the puck there, why can’t we do it for 99 shifts more?”