SOCHI, Russia — On a collision course to an almost-assured showdown in the gold medal game, the United States and Canada will size each other up Wednesday in the preliminary round of the women’s hockey tournament.
No matter the outcome, the meeting at Shayba Arena will not be for the faint of heart. The animus between these teams is not some manufactured storyline.
“Any Canada game, whether you’re playing in Timbuktu and there is no one in the stands or you’re playing in front of 12 or 15,000 people, those are the games you get up for,” Team USA forward Monique Lamoureux said. “It’s the biggest rivalry game in women’s hockey so we’re going to be ready for it.”
As the powerhouses of the sport, the teams have a spirited history. During a seven-game pre-Olympic tour, the results were as follows: Four U.S. wins. Three Canadian victories. And two brawls.
“We’re so passionate — this is our Stanley Cup — so I think we leave our emotions on the ice,” Team Canada goaltender Charline Labonte said. “Obviously, it’s going to create some little fights and stuff like that, but it’s just part of the game.”
It’s been a part of the meetings between the teams through 15 world championships and four previous Olympics, where the United States and Canada have battled for the gold medal in all but one.
“We both like to play physical,” Canada defenseman Catherine Ward said. “They have a good power play, so we’ll have to stay out of the box. If it heats up we’ll have to keep our calm.”
Checking is not allowed in women’s hockey. In theory, that cuts down on physical play but it hasn’t deterred the North American neighbors from managing to bang into each other whenever given the opportunity. The biggest impact on whether Wednesday’s game deteriorates into a slugfest could come from those wearing stripes.
“It’s going to depend on the refereeing,” Lamoureux said. “You’ll probably find out in the first five or 10 minutes. If they’re calling it, it probably won’t be as physical. If they’re not, I’m sure you’ll see a couple of nice hits and some body checks. In pool play, it’s typically been more physical than when a medal is on the line.
“When you’ve played in so many championships against one team it’s going to get heated,” Lamoureux added. “Both countries are very passionate … and are wanting to come out on top.”
Team USA coach Katey Stone said that the Americans “are prepared to play a tougher, more physical game” than during the tour leading up the Games.
“We’re smarter on the defensive end than we were early on in the fall,” Stone continued. “We have a lot more confidence than we did back then. We also understand what we need to put in to get out what we want. As do they.”