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 today in the preliminary round of the womens 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 youre playing in Timbuktu and there is no one in the stands or youre playing in front of 12 or 15,000 people, those are the games you get up for, Team USA forward Monique Lamoureux said. Its the biggest rivalry game in womens hockey so were 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.
Were so passionate this is our Stanley Cup so I think we leave our emotions on the ice, Team Canada goaltender Charline Labonte said. Obviously, its going to create some little fights and stuff like that, but its just part of the game.
Its 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 well have to stay out of the box. If it heats up well have to keep our calm.
Checking is not allowed in womens hockey. In theory, that cuts down on physical play but it hasnt deterred the North American neighbors from managing to bang into each other whenever given the opportunity. The biggest impact on whether Wednesdays game deteriorates into a slugfest could come from those wearing stripes.
Its going to depend on the refereeing, Lamoureux said. Youll probably find out in the first five or 10 minutes. If theyre calling it, it probably wont be as physical. If theyre not, Im sure youll see a couple of nice hits and some body checks. In pool play, its typically been more physical than when a medal is on the line.
When youve played in so many championships against one team its 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.
Were 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.