You can if you are the Japanese Women’s Olympic Hockey Team. It is a little strange seeing “cute” and “hockey” in the same sentence but hockey blogs and news outlets everywhere seem to be putting the two words together for the first time to describe the Sochi Olympic’s number one under-dog team.
Like their summer tournament counter parts, the World Cup Champion Japanese women’s soccer team, they have been thrust info the spotlight overnight. Girls that are normally delivering pizzas and working at convenient stores are now on the biggest sports stage in the world.
They did not really make performance related headlines with their five straight loses. instead turning heads with their never ending smiles and we-are-so-happy-to-be-here attitudes. The legendary photo sessions of them flopping all over the Sochi ice rink, and their smiling bows each and every time they scored a goal, made the world hockey community give out a collective smile.
They are dubbed “Smile Japan” based on the story of their coach sending them out to have a snowball fight to loosen up the tension at a qualification game for the Olympics. When they returned all smiles she said that she wanted them to play with those same smiles. They did, and went on the win the game and a trip to the Sochi Olympics.
Japan is a place that is famous for its figure skaters, but there are only a few thousand registered women hockey players in a country of 127 million. By comparison; Canada has almost as many registered women referees and a growing list of women hockey players that number 87,000 plus.
Though there is a clear size difference between them and the dominant hockey countries, their quick and nimble play seemed to frustrate both the Russian and Swedish teams. The news focused mostly on their cuteness but the girls could play. This was no free ride like it was in the 1998 Nagano Olympics where they got an automatic qualification because they were the host country. The ladies had to earn their spot the hard way; by beating the other teams in qualifications and earning their spot as one of the best 8 teams in the world.