These Olympics probably shouldn't be taking place due to the ongoing pandemic, but that said, it looks like the tournament will be proceeding as planned with 10 teams qualifying for the women's hockey tournament.
(When we have completed our preview for each team, it will be linked here in this list. Team previews will be posted throughout the next couple weeks leading up to the Olympics, January 24 through February 1.)
- United States
- ROC (Russian Olympic Committee)
- Czech Republic
In 2019, the top-division IIHF women's tournament was expanded to include 10 teams. These will be the first Olympics to have 10 teams; previously, the tournament had been expanded to 8 teams in 2002 after the inaugural women's Olympic hockey tournament in 1998 started with just 6.
Six teams (USA, Canada, Finland, ROC, Switzerland, and Japan) qualified for the 2022 Olympics by virtue of their IIHF World ranking, whereas the Czech Republic, Sweden, and Denmark qualified via lower-division IIHF qualification tournaments in November. Team China qualifies automatically as the host nation.
The tournament will begin with group play, where each team will face each other team in its group once. In this format, Group A automatically qualifies for the quarterfinals, as well as the top 3 teams in Group B, while the bottom 2 teams in Group B are eliminated. The tournament will then follow a standard bracket all the way to the gold medal game, with the two semifinal-losing teams meeting for a bronze medal match.
Group play begins on February 3rd prior to the Olympic opening ceremonies and goes through February 8th. The quarterfinals will be played on February 11th and 12th, followed by the semifinals on the 14th, the bronze medal game on the 16th, and the gold medal game on the 17th. (Anne Tokarski has formatted the schedule into a Google calendar and changed all the times to Eastern time! Thank her!)
How to Watch and What to Expect
For those of us in North America, these games will be either very early in the morning or very late at night. They're played locally on China Standard Time (UTC+8), which is 13 hours ahead of Eastern US time. Games featuring Team USA and/or Team Canada will likely be replayed in primetime on CBC and NBC. In the US, you will be able to watch all of the games live with a Peacock Premium subscription. In Canada, streaming will be available on CBC and the CBC Gem app.
There are two venues for ice hockey in Beijing which will host both men's and women's events. Preliminary matches for both men's and women's group play will take place at the National Indoor Stadium on the Olympic Green, which seats 18,000. The secondary arena, Wukesong Arena, will host preliminary group matches as well, and seats about 9,000. The National Indoor Stadium will host the medal matches for the men's tournament, while medal games for the women's tournament will take place at Wukesong. On January 17, it was announced that groups of spectators would be permitted in venues on an invitation-only basis, so it's up to the Beijing organizers who will be able to watch these games in person and how many there might be in the stands. There will be no ticket sales.
NBC recently announced that they would be sending no commentating crews to Beijing and all events would be called remotely from Connecticut. Some of this was planned in advance, but there were commentating crews who were supposed to call some events in person. NBC will still have in-person correspondents covering the Games as reporters and a large broadcast presence. The CBC will also be doing its live event commentary remotely from Toronto, though there will be CBC reporters on the ground in Beijing as well.
The Olympic Broadcasting Service is responsible for live feeds of events writ large, as always, which ensures a consistent standard across all of the games. Your mileage may vary with commentating teams, especially depending on who you're rooting for. It will be interesting to see whether networks and commentators can resist naming men that players are related to or married to to fill air time, and also whether the coverage will be infantilizing and demeaning to lower-ranked teams. They probably can't, and it probably will be, and we'll probably write about it, but we would be delighted to be proven wrong!
Women's ice hockey has gotten the short end of the stick throughout the pandemic. The 2020 IIHF Women's Worlds top division tournament was cancelled altogether, and the 2021 tournament was cancelled and then moved and rescheduled. Lower division tournaments have generally been completely cancelled as well as the U18 tournament. If you're a young player in women's hockey space, especially at a high level, this has been devastating. While the PWHPA and PHF have played on intermittently in the States and in Canada since 2020, the effects haven't always been positive, unless you mean in COVID cases. European and Asian leagues have also had cancelled games and shortened seasons.
Ostensibly this is the big moment and what players have been putting themselves at risk for over the last 2 years, whether playing for a professional club/organization or at the collegiate level, not to mention attending camps with their national team and trying to show their worth. Every four years we have the same conversation about what women's hockey needs to do to ride the post-Olympic wave of interest in the sport and "grow the game." This time, though, the stakes feel much different.
The pandemic has had seismic effects on every aspect of private and public life across the globe and sports are no different. The fact that these Olympics are happening at all is incredible and surreal. There is a fatalistic edge to these Olympics more so than others in the recent past. It's not just training and personal sacrifice on everyone's minds. There are over five and a half million people dead in the world from COVID-19 since early 2020. Things really aren't great. If you're going to go to the Beijing Olympics in the middle of the omicron surge to play a sport... well, athletes will likely be doing their best to make sure it was worth it.
The main concern has to be whether the tournament can even be played safely. If we get over that obstacle, and everyone tests negative in the test-to-stay model in Beijing, we could be in for some good hockey, and maybe even the most competitive Olympic-level women's hockey tournament ever. (As always, you're really missing out if you only watch the United States and Canada, and don't count Finland out of anything.)
It's been a long road to get here for everyone involved. Playing a full tournament schedule without someone getting COVID will be the real victory. What happens after will be more complex. The IIHF still has a lot to answer for in terms of its support for anything that isn't the men's World Juniors. And hockey culture in general is due for a transformative exorcism. On the men's side, competitive international hockey with the world's best players doesn't regularly happen due to the NHL having a high level of influence on the sport's resources and labor. For the second straight Winter Olympics, NHL players will not participate, this time due to COVID concerns. On the women's side, despite everything else, we still have the luxury of a tournament like this, and it will be an important thing to hang onto as the future of gender-diverse professional hockey progresses. The Olympics might be a craven and damaging enterprise at their core, but top-level international women's hockey can be pretty great. Every time we get to see it, it's a blessing.
(Photo: Wukesong Arena, via Olympics.com)