Olympic Women's Hockey 2014: Complete Guide for Sochi Winter Olympics

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Olympic Women's Hockey 2014: Complete Guide for Sochi Winter Olympics
Harry How/Getty Images

For the fifth time in Olympic history, the world's best female hockey players will face off for a shot at gold at the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, Russia.

The strong growth of women's hockey saw the sport approved for Olympic inclusion in 1992, with a debut at the Nagano games in 1998. Team USA triumphed at that inaugural event, but the powerhouse Canadians have since won three straight golds in 2002, 2006 and 2010.

The continued dominance of the two North American squads over the rest of the field has led to a format change that was first introduced at the 2012 IIHF World Championship. The change in group structure has proven successful at creating a better competitive balance in the early rounds and lessening the dominating blowouts inflicted by the U.S. and Canadian sides.

If you're familiar with men's hockey, you won't see a lot of difference in the women's game—except for the ponytails hanging out from the bottoms of players' helmets. Body-checking is illegal in women's hockey, but there's still a strong physical component to the game. Female players are just as adept as the men at using their bodies and sticks to challenge their opponents—they're just a little sneakier.

Women's hockey is one of the first events to kick off at this year's Games. The preliminary round gets underway on Feb. 8 at Shayba Arena, and the gold medals will be awarded on Feb. 20 at the Bolshoy Ice Dome.

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