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Sunday, 24 February, 2002, 21:07 GMT

The big two dominate

BBC Sport ice hockey commentator Simon Crosse looks back over the women's tournament at the Winter Olympics

Olympic ice hockey gold was contested by Canada and USA for the second time.

The two nations will almost certainly play in the final in Turin in 2006 as well.

Such is the dominance of the two North American squads that it's impossible to imagine any team emerging to challenge them within the next four, eight or even 12 years.

The sport desperately needs a third and fourth best nation to challenge the great two but Finland, Sweden and Russia are all a long way behind, China, Kazakhstan and Germany still further back.

At least other countries are now contending the bronze that has been owned by Finland for so long.

This time it was wrestled from them by a spirited Swedish side and their 15-year-old netminder.

The reason for the dominance of Canada and USA is simple - American College Hockey.

While a number of Europeans star on US college sides, they are mainly packed with Americans and Canadians.

So it was no surprise at all that the big two met again for the gold, and the game lived up to expectations.

Avenging their defeat four years ago, marginal underdogs Canada secured a dramatic 3-2 win over their southern rivals, and Hayley Wickenheiser won tournament MVP.

Wickenheiser, whose cousin Kurt played for many years in Britain, remains the game's outstanding player and although she seems to have been around for years, she is still only 23.

She attended the NHL's Philadelphia Flyers rookie camp for young players and now fancies a shot at a European hockey career.

Wickenheiser wants to play with the boys and providing she picks her league carefully has more than a shot of making it.

She is a player of great vision, scoring prowess and no little physical presence.

Others are though catching her slowly - teenagers Kim Martin (Sweden), Cherie Piper (Canada) and Lydsey Wall (America) have all shown enough in Salt Lake City to suggest they'll be big players in Turin.

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