Pride On The Line

When It Comes To U.S., Canada Rivalry, What You See Is What You Get

BEIJING – In the world of women’s hockey, there are no secrets when it comes to the rivalry between the United States and Canada. Their battles have been so tight over the years that they probably know what brand of shampoo each other uses.


After meeting six times on the road to the 2022 Olympic Winter Games, the curtain has long been pulled back and each side is well versed in their opponent’s tendencies and idiosyncrasies. They know their strengths and weaknesses, their go-to moves and how to push each other’s buttons.


That familiarity has bred a fair amount of contempt. Not that each team doesn’t respect the other’s talents and tenacity, but it would be Pollyannaish to ignore the fact that these teams really don’t like each other.


“You’ve got teams that want to beat each other so badly, but also respect one another and the integrity and the growth of the game,” U.S. head coach Joel Johnson diplomatically said. 


“At the end of the day, when it comes to a puck battle in front of the net, both teams want to beat each other up and score. When you see rivalries like that it’s special, and that’s what makes people want to watch.”


The last time these North American rivals met on Olympic ice, the Americans rode the hot hands of Jocelyne Lamoureux Morando and Maddie Rooney to shootout glory as the U.S. won Olympic gold for the first time in 20 years.


That was then, this is now. A new chapter in this storied rivalry will be written Tuesday on the Olympic ice at Wukesong Sports Centre as both teams wrap up preliminary round play with little more than international bragging rights on the line.


Both teams enter the face-off circle sporting 3-0 records. The U.S. has outscored Finland, the Russian Olympic Committee and Switzerland by a combined score of 18-2, while Canada has steamrolled the same competition by a combined score of 29-3.


There’s really not that much at stake in this preliminary round matchup, other than early tournament bragging rights. Both teams will advance to the quarterfinals, and will know their opponents after tomorrow’s games. The winner will get the lowest remaining seed, while the loser draws the seventh seed.


Even though women’s hockey has taken great strides forward since the first tournament in 1998, these two teams remain the class of the competition and it will take a seismic event to upend the Olympic apple cart on the way to a gold-medal rematch.


Neither team puts much stock in what happened during the pre-Olympic tour, where the Canadians won four of six exhibition games played, including the two decided in overtime. The final three games of the series were cancelled due to Covid concerns. None of that matters now.


“Even though both teams know that they’re probably moving on because of the format of the tournament, it’s not even about the seeding,” Johnson said. 


“Any time the U.S. and Canada play, it could be on a pond, you put two of those jerseys on and all of a sudden the intensity ramps up.” 


The U.S. has taken a one-game-at-a-time approach to the tournament, refusing to look beyond their next opponent. Now, that next opponent that wants to knock the defending champs off the top of the podium. 


While it doesn’t make for compelling storylines, Kelly Pannek took a common sense approach to that way of thinking.


“We always say that most important game is the next one,” Pannek said after scoring a pair of goals in an 8-0 win over Switzerland on Sunday. 


“You can’t beat Canada while you’re playing Switzerland,” Pannek said. “Canada is our next game so that’s the most important game.” 


While the game that ultimately matters is still nine days away, when it comes to playing against Canada, every game is a true test of wills.


“We bring out the best competitiveness in one another,” said Hilary Knight, who will have played in more Olympic games than any other U.S. women’s player when she steps on the ice on Tuesday. 


“Obviously it helps when you have millions of fans rallying behind you to have that battle going. 


“It’s one of those games that you live and breathe it. I’ve called it before one of the most beautiful rivalries in sport.”

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