If you don’t follow women’s hockey, you’re missing out on one of the fiercest rivalries in all of sports between the United States and Canada.
These two teams hate each other, and over the last year, the dislike has escalated into full-scale line brawls in addition to the fast-paced, high-scoring action between the whistles.
The next chapter in this epic rivalry will be written Wednesday when Team USA and Canada meet in Sochi for their third preliminary round game.
“Since 1990, there have been 19 World Championships or Olympic titles on the line, and 18 times these two teams have squared off,” NBC Sports analyst Mike Milbury said during the network’s preview of Wednesday’s matchup. “That is amazing. That makes Yankees-Red Sox look weak… If you don’t think women’s hockey is tough, take a look at this thing.”
The last time these two teams played in Olympic competition, Canada defeated the United States 2-0 to capture the gold medal on home soil in Vancouver. It was a bitter loss for the Americans, one that has fueled them for the last four years.
“I would definitely say the rivalry with Canada is a nasty one,” said American forward Kelli Stack. “We don’t like them, plain and simple. We want to win that game no matter what – whatever it takes.”
Both teams are entering Wednesday’s showdown in fine form. Canada has started 2-0 with wins over Switzerland and Finland by a combined score of 8-0. Team USA is also 2-0 with victories against the same opponents by a combined score of 12-1.
These rivals have played seven pre-Olympic exhibition games over the last couple of months, with the Americans winning the last four. A fifth straight victory would end Canada’s 17-game Olympic winning streak, one that includes three straight gold medals, two of which were won against the United States (2002 and 2010).
For the Americans to defeat their nemesis and take another step toward the top seed, they need to play the same fast-paced, aggressive style of hockey that got them to this point. Team USA is built on speed and skill, but its tenacity makes them difficult to play against.
The preliminary round in the women’s tournament has a new format this year. The four top-ranked teams coming into Sochi were placed in the same group. All of the teams advance to the playoff round, so the results of the preliminary stage are only for seeding.
Wednesday’s matchup with Canada has been circled on Team USA’s calendar for many months, but with the quality of competition significantly improving since the Vancouver Olympics, the Americans cannot devote all of their energy and effort defeating their arch-rival.
“Canada is built up to be such a big rivalry, and we’re definitely looking forward to playing them,” American forward and Massachusetts native Alex Carpenter told NESN.com in January. “But we can’t take anyone lightly (in Sochi).”