In the Olympic hockey world, the women have taken center stage and have put on a great show. I cover college hockey on a weekly basis, and get to see some of the best women's players in the game of hockey. Living in Grand Forks, North Dakota, the University of North Dakota's is in our backyard, and I am a frequent visitor at WCHA women's games. I have had the opportunity to see some elite players over the last few years.
During the 2014 Sochi games, the University North Dakota Women's hockey team has three former and three current players, who are playing on three separate national teams (Jocelyne and Monique Lamoureux USA, Michelle Karvinen, and Susanna Tapani, Finland, Tanja Eisenschmid and Susanne Fellner, Germany).
It wasn't that long ago that the UND women's team was a floundering program, but now they're becoming a national power house with players playing on Olympic teams. That was unheard of until UND head coach Brian Idalski showed up in Grand Forks.
"That wasn't here years ago, before we got here," Idalski said. "So that's all the developments that have come in the last few years, based on a lot of the work of Grant Kimbell, Maria Lewis, obviously, Peter Elander and Erik Fabien now. We told people that this is a great place to develop and become a high caliber player, with the facilities, with the staff. With some of the things that we were doing, now that's come to fruition."
The Women's WCHA has numerous representatives in the 2014 Sochi Olympic Games. Obviously, the Minnesota Gophers, North Dakota,and the Wisconsin Badgers are missing key players from their line-ups.
Two weeks ago, North Dakota took on the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers and it was evident that UND was definitely missing their key players. The Gophers swept North Dakota (5-1, 3-1) and UND struggled against the speedy Gophers.
After watching that series, it was very evident that UND missed their top forward Michelle Karvinen who's currently playing for the Finnish Olympic team. I asked the UND coach if the average fans realized how good of a player Karvinen is.
"Being on an Olympic size (rink) with the way that she (Karvinen) skates, so give someone of that Caliber two or three more seconds, it's another level," Idalski said. "The development of playing on smaller sheets, the contact, the training, that's all helped her. But I think the casual observer doesn't really get it. People that have been around us get it. Even with the (Lamoureux) twins last season, we struggled a little bit early, until Michelle was healthy and came back."
I asked the coach whether Karvinen was overshadowed by the Lamoureux twins last season.
"The dynamic and skill set that she brings, that's why I am really excited for the stretch run", Idalski said. "It's been a little spotty with moving her around - where she's been and our younger "D" getting adjusted to it. So, we have the makings of a really good club when everyone is back in the fold."
I had an opportunity to watch Finland and Canada game on Tuesday and the announcers were very impressed with freshman forward Susanna Tapani. This is what that head coach had to say about his young forward.
"Team Finland has been super excited about her development and the last four months just being here," Idalski said. "She's been a dominate player for them. They played a boys midget team before they went to the Olympics and their staff said she was the best player on the ice, she just physically dominated."
"Still there's a maturity level, as far as taking over and being okay taking over, and being dominant - demanding the puck. She's getting close to being to being that type of player where she can dominate a full game."
Incidentally, Karvinen and Tapani are currently playing with former All-American Golden Gophers goalie Noora Raty. Yeah that Noora Ratty, the same one that dominated the NCAA for four seasons.