International Ice Hockey Federation

Two champs collide

Two champs collide

American & Canadian women ready

Published 15.02.2018 03:59 GMT+10 | Author Andrew Podnieks
Two champs collide
PLYMOUTH, MICHIGAN - APRIL 6: Canada's Brianne Jenner #19 protects the puck from USA's Monique Lamoureux #7 during the gold medal game at the 2017 IIHF Ice Hockey Women's World Championship. (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/HHOF-IIHF Images)
It’s just a preliminary-round game, but don’t tell the players they don’t care about winning.

Canada, reigning four-time Olympic champs, and the United States, reigning four-time Women's Worlds champs, are set for another clash, an Olympic clash, a set-it-up-for-gold clash. It will be women’s hockey played at the highest tempo, the most eye-popping skill, the most physical and intense game fans at these Olympics will see.

But it doesn’t really mean anything.

Whoever wins the game will finish first in Group A, but both teams get a bye to the semi-finals. They’ll play winners of games featuring Finland, Sweden, Switzerland, and Olympic Athletes from Russia.

The way the North Americans are playing right now, it will take a miracle—a double or triple miracle—to prevent them from meeting again a few days later for the gold medal.

There are plenty of reasons to favour one team over the other, but in the end the game is 50-50. They all are.

The Americans have won the last four Women’s Worlds. In fact, they have won virtually everything of importance since that devastating loss to Canada for gold in Sochi (full video). A few months ago, they were head and shoulders odds-on favourites to win gold in Korea.

But Canada made some changes, and during the exhibition series in December it was Canada that dominated the U.S. in go-figure fashion, winning the last five games before parting ways to make final preparations for the Olympics.

But as Monique Lamoureux noted after her team’s win over OAR on Tuesday night: “We won the last four before Sochi, and look what happened.”

Indeed, Canada has seemed to be the more aggressive team in the last four years as far as lineup changes go, but that’s not the truth. Some 13 players are back from Sochi, whereas the U.S. have only 10 returnees. Both teams even have six players from the 2010 Games in Vancouver.

But the Canadian mindset has changed. Instead of giving the veterans an automatic spot, coach Laura Schuler has brought in younger players whose assets are speed and skill. That was always the Americans’ strength, and now Canada is trying to go toe-to-toe with them--and succeeding.

Make no mistake, though. The U.S. has plenty of experience, plenty of youth, and plenty of speed and skill. And therein lies the rub. The teams can make changes, play each other in exhibitions, and talk about what an incredible rivalry it is. But the bottom line each time out is that execution decides the winner. 

The teams are equal. The teams know each other, hate and respect each other, love playing each other for the game’s intensity and challenge. But whoever wins will do just those one or two things necessary to make the difference: convert a power play, block a shot, get a timely save, get the puck out at a crucial moment.

The winner on Thursday won’t have the edge in the gold-medal game. The loser won’t be more motivated than the winner. Whatever happens on Thursday will be exciting—likely a one- or two-goal game—and then when they wake up on gold-medal day, the score will reset to 0-0 and they’ll do it all again.

That’s hockey!

 

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