By Alicia Dziak
The countdown is on to the XXIII Olympic Winter Games, which kick off next week in PyeongChang, South Korea.
Living where we do, many of the Winter Olympic sports hit close to home, and many Western New Yorkers and Canadians have personal connections to the sports that will soon be televised on an international level. Ice hockey and curling, two team games played on ice, both offer viewers numerous opportunities to check them out during the games.
With both Buffalo and Toronto boasting professional ice hockey teams, many local Olympic fans are familiar with the sport. This is a fast-paced game in which two teams attempt to hit a puck into their opponent’s goal using sticks, while preventing the puck from entering their own goal. Like several other winter Olympic sports, ice hockey games take place on an ice rink, and six players from each team are permitted on the ice at a time (one goaltender, two defense and three offense.) Players who commit a penalty are removed from the game for a period of time, during which the other team has a player advantage.
The top four teams compete for the three medals in the two final games.
In the Olympic Winter Games program, there are separate ice hockey competitions for men and women, and two sets of medals are awarded.
NHL players will not be participating in the Olympic games, as they have in the past five Olympics, so there will be no Sabres or Leafs to cheer for this time around. The NHL cited several reasons for the decision, including shutting down their league for 17 days for the duration of the games when hockey is not competing with other sports such as football and baseball, increased risk of injury due to the compressed schedule and and injuries sustained during Olympic play, in which players return to the NHL afterwards only to miss games. (Read more at nhl.com.)
Ice hockey events begin Feb. 10, with medal games starting on Feb. 21.
Curling is a game played between two four-person teams, was a demonstration sport in the Olympic Games as early as 1932 but has only been an official Olympic sport since 1998. Three sets of medals are awarded for this sport in the Olympics — one for men and one for women, and new this year, one set for the mixed doubles curling event, in which each team is composed of two players, one male and one female.
Curling is played on ice with team members delivering a 19.96 kg (44 lbs.) stone to a circular target area called the house. Competitors aim to get the stone closer to the center of the house than any stone of the opposing team. Athletes in this event wear special curling shoes with different soles. One has a slippery sole, worn on the sliding foot, and the other is made from rubber to provide traction.
Each curling game consists of 10 “ends.” During each end, each player steers two stones (for a total of eight per team) toward the house, alternating with the opposing team. Team members not physically pushing the stone use brooms to sweep the ice surface in front of the stone to reduce friction.
The score is determined once all 16 stones have been delivered to the house. In case of a tie at the conclusion of 10 ends, extra ends are played until one team wins.
Curling events run daily throughout the games, with medals being awarded on Feb. 13, Feb. 23, 24 and 25.
For more info, visit www.nbcolympics.com and pyeongchang2018.com.