Rivals U.S., Canada face off for gold (again)
OTTAWA, Ontario -- From the moment the puck dropped at the IIHF Ice Hockey Women's World Championships, there was little doubt that Canada and the U.S. would face one another in the final.
With the U.S. shutting out Finland 3-0 and Canada defeating Russia 8-1 in Monday's semifinals, the stage is set yet again for a faceoff between the two Tuesday night.
After losing to Canada in overtime last year in Burlington, Vt., the U.S. would love nothing more than to regain hockey supremacy and bragging rights heading into the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.
In the 15 championships since 1990, the two teams will have met in every gold-medal game, creating one of the game's greatest rivalries. Canada has won 10 of those games.
When asked whether playing Canada on its home ice served as motivation, U.S. coach Katey Stone downplayed the desire for payback.
"We don't need any incentive and nor do they," Stone said. "We're just trying to win a gold medal no matter where it is. It could be on the moon for all we care. We're going to be ready to go and that's what's important."
Canada's Hayley Wickenheiser, playing in her 13th world championship, said she believes it doesn't really matter where the game is played, either.
"Nobody wants to give an inch," said Wickenheiser. "It's lots of fun to play against one another and it's so many years of heated battle. We're going to have to get some jump early and use the crowd to our advantage."
A number of players from both teams have faced one another numerous times over the years, adding to the intensity.
U.S. goaltender Jessie Vetter and Canada's Shannon Szabados have stared across at one another over the years, and while they don't see it as a battle of the goaltenders, there's no denying the desire to beat the other.
"Any time you play Canada as a goaltender, it's exciting because you know you're going to face shots," Vetter said. "They're going to pressure you and make you play your best game. I personally enjoy those kinds of games and look forward to them. They're challenging and difficult, but that's why you pick the position of goaltender."
Much has been made of the fact Canada beat the U.S. 3-2 in the opening game of the tournament, but considering the U.S. beat Canada 9-1 in last year's tournament group play, little emphasis should be placed on that first game.
"We need to manage our game," said Hilary Knight of the U.S. "If we just take care of the puck and do little things and be disciplined, I think we have all the talent we need in the locker room right now."
Canada's Rebecca Johnston said this will likely be a very different game from the one played at the start of the tournament.
"We learned we have to play 60 minutes," said Johnston. "The first two periods we were a little slow and it took us awhile to get into it and I think in the final game right from the first period we have to step up and play our game right through the 60 minutes."
Players from both sides said they expect a strong, physical game.
"It's going to be very physical and we hope that the referees will let that play because we want a game that's played mostly five-on-five," said Canada's Caroline Ouellette, who was injured during the first game between the two teams. "I think the fans like the physical plays and we'll be ready for it."
Both teams cruised through group play, with Canada outscoring opponents 24-2 and the U.S. outscoring its opponents 14-5. While Canada easily defeated Russia 8-1 in its semifinal, the U.S. had a more difficult time in its 3-0 win against Finland.
Despite being heavily outshot, Finland challenged the U.S., in most part due to the play of goaltender Noora Raty, and it wasn't until the 55-minute mark that the U.S. finally managed to solve Raty.
"Those are the types of games you play for, those tight games, and I think it's going to help us for [Tuesday]," American Monique Lamoureux said. "We've had some tight games this whole tournament and I see that as helping us."
Canadian coach Dan Church said he feels his team has improved throughout the tournament, but he still wants to see more.
"I'm looking forward to seeing the best game of the tournament," Church said. "Now is the time to play with confidence and just put it out there and play that free game that they can all play at their highest level. I'm looking forward to seeing that."
Lisa Wallace covers hockey for The Canadian Press.