Olympics-Women's ice hockey at the Sochi Winter Games

Jan 28 (Reuters) - Factbox of the women's ice hockey tournament at the Sochi Winter Olympics:

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Eight nations split into two groups will compete for the gold medal in a tournament that runs from Feb. 8-20.

The top four ranked teams make up Group A, with the next four in Group B.

Group A consists of Canada, Finland, Switzerland and the United States. Group B is comprised of Russia, Sweden, Germany and Japan.

After the preliminary round-robin, the bottom two Group A teams will play the top two Group B teams in the quarter-finals, with the winners moving to the semis to play either the first or second place team in Group A.

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Women's ice hockey made its Olympic debut in 1998 as part of the IOC's effort to increase the number of female athletes at the Games.

Canada and the United States have faced off against each other in every gold medal game except 2006 when Canada beat Sweden.

After the 2010 Games former IOC president Jacques Rogge put women's hockey on notice when he said "we cannot continue without improvement" from other nations.

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The preliminary round-robin, quarter-finals and semi-finals will be played at the 7,000-seat Shayba Arena and the medal games will be in the 12,000-seat Bolshoy Ice Dome.

Shayba is Russian for "hockey puck" and Russians shout "Shaybu!" a familiar way of supporting hockey teams at the international championships.

The Shayba Arena is a moveable venue, making it possible to be dismantled and transported for post-Games use in another Russian city.

Bolshoy means "major" and the venue, which will remain as a permanent structure to be used as a multi-purpose sports and entertainment facility, is based on the image of a frozen drop of water.

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Canada has won the last three gold medals and will once again be the team to beat despite an abrupt head coaching change less than two months before the Olympics.

The nations with the best hope of interrupting a Canada-U.S final are Finland, Sweden and Russia. (Reporting by Frank Pingue, editing by Gene Cherry)