At first glance, one could look at the Olympic statistics of Guo Hong and think the “Great Wall of China” was more like the “Great Sieve of China.”
And one would be wrong.
Guo, who retired after the Salt Lake Olympic Games, was routinely peppered more than a cheap piece of Chinese flank steak, facing up to 70 shots a game. During the Salt Lake Games, Guo stopped a remarkable 206 of a record 232 shots she faced, including 71 shots in a 12-1 loss to the U.S. Women’s Team.
Guo is long gone, retiring to study English and ice hockey. In her place is Shi Yao, who is likely to face more shots than a shooting gallery duck at a Saturday night carnival when China returns to the Olympic stage on Feb. 14 against a powerful American team.
“Before we had the Great Wall. Now we have another goalie who is also tall [like Guo] but this is her first time at the Olympics. I think she will benefit from this experience,” said Chinese team captain Wang Linuo.
“The Great Wall is now in Edmonton. I think if she has time she’ll be watching on TV. I don’t think she will be coming here [to Vancouver]. If she can come we will be very excited.”
Nobody would be more excited to see Guo, especially if she comes with goalie pads in tow, than Hannu Saintula.
Saintula, who took over the Chinese women’s program after 10 years coaching in his native Finland, can use all the help he can get.
China, ranked seventh in the IIHF World Rankings, has only 166 women playing hockey in the entire country. That’s less than the number of female players in the state of Iowa.
After competing in the first two women’s Olympic hockey tournaments, China was done in by a clock malfunction during a qualification game against Switzerland and didn’t make the trip to Torino. This time they hope that time is on their side.
They beat Japan, 2-0, to punch their ticket to Vancouver, and have set a lofty goal of a sixth-place finish.
Saintula is counting on Wang’s veteran leadership to not only lead his young team on the ice but to also help him bridge the language barrier that exists between him and his players.
“We use different English when talking about hockey so some of us have experience playing and talking in hockey terms,” Wang said. “Our players know what I am talking about because we know hockey.”
A good showing against the Americans would not only help them get the tournament off on the right foot, it would help their fellow countrymen usher in the Chinese New Year in style.
“We will hopefully give the Chinese people a happy new year by playing a good game,” Wang said. “We want to play hard and we want to show the Chinese people how well women’s hockey can be played. We also want our people be proud.”
The captain and coach each have their own ideas of how to avoid an American offensive onslaught. Wang is looking for her teammates to protect Shi Yao from another shooting gallery of American shots.
Saintuna wants his team to break the game down into small pieces and look to hold their own. The idea of anything more would be even grander than shooting a puck through the real Great Wall.
“I think the feeling of our team is pretty good, but even they understand the situation,” he said. “We can’t talk about winning against the USA, that’s for sure."