You’re about to hear a lot about history when the U.S. meets Canada in the gold-medal game in women’s hockey at noon ET on NBC. You’re going to hear a lot about the great North American rivalry coming into this game. All of it matters, but not as it pertains to this one game.
It’s important to be aware of the past, but when the gold medal is on the line, the only history that matters is that which is about to be made.
USA and Canada are undoubtedly the best teams in the world and now this bitter rivalry’s next great chapter will be written on an ice sheet in Sochi, Russia.
The U.S. is now 16 years removed from its first and only gold medal at the Olympics. For most of the women on Team USA, that’s the vast majority of their lives. And if you can believe it, that 3-1 win over Canada in the 1998 gold-medal game was the last time the U.S. has beaten their North American rivals at the Olympics. Granted, they’ve only met three times since, but 16 years is a long time.
Now they have an opportunity to end this drought on the biggest stage.
The landscape of women’s hockey has changed over the last several years. Team USA has won five of the last seven IIHF Women’s World Championships. The American women also beat Canada in four straight at the end of the Olympic tour, but a preliminary-round loss to Canada put the U.S. on alert. This match-up is the same as it ever was.
Here are some quick thoughts on Team USA heading into today’s gold-medal game, which will air on NBC (not Sports Network, big NBC) and stream live on NBCOlympics.com:
What to Watch For
– A fast start can go a long way for the U.S. They need to get the puck moving early and be the team that pushes the pace. Their speed is one of their best weapons and if they can find the room to move out there, it should lead to offense.
– We’ll know pretty quickly how this game is going to be officiated. That’s going to play a role in how the game is played today. Canada plays a physical, aggressive style, but they don’t have the speed of Team USA. If obstruction and body checking is called lightly, it will favor Canada. It’s a minor thing, but if the U.S. can’t establish a speed game, it’s going to be tough to play the grind-it-out style Canada will employ. A tightly-called game means Canada has to be more careful in how they defend.
– If Canada does play more of another rough-and-tumble game, the U.S. women have to find a way to fight through those checks and sticks to create. There are a lot of tough women on both sides, and they each have the personnel to play a more rugged style. Team USA can’t overthink that though and get away from what makes them so good.
– In this kind of game, I think the line with Monique and Jocelyne Lamoureux and Meghan Duggan is so important. They’re Team USA’s most aggressive line physically and they back down from nothing. They have to be the more aggressive trio than the one on the other side of the ice.
– Jessie Vetter has to play well today. She’s looking for redemption from Vancouver and if she makes some key saves early, it will give the team plenty of confidence in front of her. Additionally, Team USA’s defense has to be more engaged offensively to try and create against Canada’s sound team defense. If they’re pushing up the ice, Vetter has to be ready to see some good looks from Canada.
– Megan Bozek to me has been one of the best offensive defensemen in the Olympics. Her powerful shot from the point and ability to get the puck up ice in a hurry should make her particularly useful against Canada. Utilizing the points is going to be key as Canada does a great job of clogging up their own zone. If the U.S. defense can get engaged from the points, it will force Canada to spread itself out in its defensive zone.
– Amanda Kessel has to be a factor in the game. She’s too fast and too skilled not to be a threat. She’s not afraid to go to the net and she can dance through defenses. You need your best players to be your best players in a gold medal game. Canada will be keying on her, but she has the ability to fight through that.
– Hilary Knight is also bound to be a big factor. She is one of the great power forwards in the women’s hockey game. Making her persence known along the walls and at the net front will allow Team USA to show it can push back against Canada’s grating style. It should be interesting to see how she rises to the occasion. It seems like she’s at the right point in her career to make a huge statement in this game.
– If you’ve never watched women’s hockey before, watch this game. It is every bit as exciting as any other match-up you’ve seen in hockey of any gender and with so much on the line it is going to be a thriller. With all of the history between these two teams, you have everything you could want in high drama and great storylines. Above all, you’re going to see a great hockey game.
Team USA’s lines for today…
Hilary Knight -Kelli Stack – Alex Carpenter
Kendall Coyne – Brianna Decker – Amanda Kessel
Meghan Duggan – Jocelyne Lamoureux – Monique Lamoureux
Lyndsey Fry – Julie Chu
Anne Schleper – Megan Bozek
Kacey Bellamy – Gigi Marvin
Michelle Picard – Josephine Pucci
Extra: Brianne McLaughlin
Full recap to follow the game right here on United States of Hockey.