U.S.A. 13 Russia 0: Should the IOC Institute a Mercy Rule for Hockey?

Mr. Jones and MeCorrespondent IFebruary 17, 2010

VANCOUVER, BC - FEBRUARY 16:  Jenny Potter of The United States scores their 11th goal during the women's ice hockey preliminary match between Russia and The United States at UBC Thunderbird Arena on February 16, 2010 in Vancouver, Canada.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
Harry How/Getty Images

The United States women's hockey team flattened Russia 13-0 on Tuesday at the UBC Thunderbird Arena in Vancouver, B.C.  One day earlier, the Canadian women's team defeated Slovakia by a score of 18-0, which qualifies as the biggest rout in Olympic history.


These lopsided affairs in women’s hockey, which are not exclusive to these Olympics Games, have conjured up whispers about the need for mercy rule in women’s hockey—essentially a statute that would end the game once a certain margin in the score was reached.


So, should the International Olympic Committee (IOC) institute a mercy rule for hockey?


Absolutely not.


For one, this is the Olympics games, not Little League.  The less experienced and weaker teams know what they are getting into when they sign up to participate in the Olympic Games. 


In fact, Slovakian goaltender Zuzana Tomcikova, who stopped 49 shots in spite of the 18 she did not, expressed nothing but appreciation for the opportunity to participate in the Olympic Games and recognized that, before it even began, the result of the game was never in question.


Tomcikova stated, "The score was as it should have been."


Furthermore, the implementation of a mercy rule would have a negative impact on both the winner and the loser.


Even when the competition may not be up to par, the dominant teams need time to tune-up in real game situations.  Robbing them of the opportunity to gain valuable ice time in live-game situations because of their dominance is disadvantageous to the stronger teams.


Moreover, teams like Russia and Slovakia would lose out if a mercy rule were implemented as well.  While it is clear these teams are not ready to compete with the elite powers, playing them will only help them get better.


The best way to get better is to play against the best.  While the final score may have been lopsided, both the Slovakian and Russian teams are better for having played those games.


Furthermore, the ultimate goal for teams like the Slovakian and Russian squads is to one day compete with the superpowers.  To be the best, you need to (eventually) beat the best.  What better way to learn how to beat the best than to go head-to-head with them for 60 minutes?


Some have pointed out that Olympic softball had a mercy rule to protect against lopsided scores, and present this as evidence that ice hockey would benefit from a similar rule.  However, what these individuals don’t realize is that softball and ice hockey are fundamentally different sports.


In softball, teams are required to record outs to advance the game, and a stronger team has no control over the weaker opponent’s ability to make a defensive play or record a strikeout.


Moreover, you can’t send a batter to the plate and tell her to strikeout.  “Giving” your opponent outs to advance the game is far more embarrassing than an 18-0 final score.


In theory, a softball game could go on forever, meaning the mercy rule very well may be in the best interest of the teams and players involved.


On the other hand, hockey has a definite endpoint.  Teams play three 20-minute periods, and the game comes to an end.  No level of competency is needed for a hockey game to conclude.


In addition, the nature of hockey allows teams to take the pedal off the gas without causing embarrassment to the other team. 


In the third period of the game between the United States and Russia, the Americans played a very defensive style of hockey, scored just one goal on two shots, and the Russians nearly ended the shutout when Alexandra Kapustina fired just wide on a chance with an open net.


In conclusion, a mercy rule is not in the best interest of Olympic ice hockey.  It would negatively impact the spirit of competition and the teams on both sides of the lopsided scores. 


Teams like Russia and Slovakia don’t need a rule to protect them.  They need time to gain experience and develop the popularity of the sport amongst women in their countries.  The IOC needs to leave the issue alone.