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There were more than 85,000 female hockey players registered in Canada at the end of last year, nearly 60,000 in the United States. It was a long drop from those numbers to bronze medalist Finland, which registered 3,500.
How's this for six degrees of separation: Canada beat Slovakia, which had 267 players to choose from, by an 18-0 score. The Slovaks made the field here by trouncing Bulgaria 82-0 in a qualifying game. It makes you shudder to think how shallow the player pool is back there.
Small wonder, too, that there's already talk of a mercy rule when the women's hockey tournament kicks off in Sochi.
Late last week, as the lopsided results piled up, International Ice Hockey Federation president Rene Fasel found himself playing defense against critics who want the women's game pulled from the Olympics not in four years, or eight, but now.
He counseled patience, noting there were 200 million girls in China. Unfortunately, only 67 play hockey.
"Not 67 million. Not 67,000," he acknowledged. "Sixty-seven."
There are 34 countries listed as IIHF members on its Web site, among them Australia, South Africa and No. 34 Bulgaria. It's not just the size of the player pool, but the quality of the coaching, facilities and the depth of each country's commitment.
So here's a preview: At 31, Canada captain Hayley Wickenheiser played in all four Olympics. Winning the gold on home soil reminded her what a long trip she and her teammates have been on.
"The midget games, the junior games that we played. Been up a goal, down a goal. We've faced adversity. Played through fatigue. Long bus trips. There was nothing really that we could see today," she said, "that could surprise us or throw us off.
"That's part of being an Olympic champion, doing all the little things when nobody is watching."
The clock has started ticking on the rest of the world. Unless the competition gets serious -- and fast -- all those women and all their sacrifices to get a game in the Olympics they could call their own are going to disappear. All because it wound up being owned so completely by their sisters from just two lands.
Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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