BEIJING (Reuters) – Canada beat archrivals the United States 4-2 on Tuesday in what many forecast was a preview of the women’s ice hockey gold medal final at the Beijing Games.
The Group A preliminary round contest mattered little in the standings with both teams having already secured spots in the knockout round but any time the two teams step onto the ice there is something on the line.
“There was no problem getting up this morning because we knew it was going to be a good one, we knew it was going to be a big one,” said Canadian forward Sarah Nurse. “Anytime we get to play the U.S., it’s always a lot of fun, a lot on the line and definitely a lot of hostility out there.”
The stakes will be considerably higher, if as expected, they meet again on Feb. 17 in the gold medal final.
With the reigning world champions Canada and Olympic gold medallists the United States taking the ice the vibe inside the Wukesong Sports Centre was very different from any of the previous five days of competition.
Canada steamrolled into their first Beijing test having out scored their three opponents 29-3 while the U.S. was only slightly less ruthless with an 18-2 scoreline.
But there was never going to be anything on Tuesday resembling the 11-1 beating Canada put on Finland or the U.S.’s 8-0 thrashing of Switzerland.
The two teams met six times in the run-up to the Beijing Olympics and three of those games were decided by a single goal.
Being out shot 14-2 Canada opened the scoring against the run of play on a goal from Brianne Jenner but the U.S. would take the lead in the second on quick fire goals from Dani Cameranesi and Alex Carpenter
Jenner answered 26 seconds later with her second of the game before Canada reclaimed the lead 4-2 on goals from Jamie Lee Rattray and Marie-Philip Poulin on a penalty shot.
Predicting a Canada and U.S. final is not exactly going out on a limb.
If familiarity really does breed contempt then there is no better example than Canada and U.S. women’s ice hockey.
Widely regarded as one of the Olympic Games truly great rivalries the U.S. and Canada have been going toe-to-toe on the ice for more than three decades.
Since the first world championships in 1990 the North American neighbours have owned the top of the podium with Canada winning 11 times and the U.S. nine.
It has been the same dominant performance at the Olympics.
Women’s ice hockey became part of the Olympic programme at the 1998 Nagano Winter Games and Canada and the U.S. have skated away with every gold medal.
The U.S. halted Canada’s run of four consecutive golds at the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Games and for four years Hockey Canada has been obsessively plotting to get it back.
For both the U.S and Canada there is no other objective in Beijing but gold and Tuesday’s game was a scouting mission.
“Every time you play somebody it is an opportunity to learn some tendencies that might be new,” said U.S. coach Joel Johnson. “Canada do what they do, we do what we do but it you’re not learning you’re not growing and if you’re not growing you’re dying.”
(Reporting by Steve Keating in Beijing, additional reporting Amy Tennery. Editing by Shri Navaratnam)