The U.S. women's Olympic hockey team is one of the most star-studded groups that the United States brought to Sochi. Although they haven't won the gold medal since 1998, they have placed in the top three each time they took the ice—their last finish being a silver medal in 2010 in Vancouver.
The rivalry between Team USA and Team Canada in this event is a fierce one. Both squads have medaled in every single Olympics that they have participated in. Due to the dominance of these two teams, a format change took place before this year's Olympics.
This new format has the four top-ranked teams in one division (Group A) and the four "underdogs" in another (Group B). The two top teams from Group A will get a bye through the semifinals, leaving the other two teams to face off against the top teams from Group B.
U.S. women's hockey team played practice game with Germany Tuesday. No official score was kept, but U.S. posted shutout, put 10 in the net.— NYT Olympics (@SochiNYT) February 4, 2014
Even though the new format is supposed to help lesser teams and create a more difficult schedule for the favorites, it works out nicely for every team involved.
It is easy to speculate that the U.S. and Canada will receive the byes through the semifinals this year. This change is in the favor of the United States, as a much-needed rest will allow the team to get healthy and regroup before facing Canada later in the tournament.
After all, Team USA is very intent on staying rested and focused. They may forego the opening ceremony, according to a tweet from ESPN:
2014 Sochi Olympics -- U.S. women's hockey team might skip opening ceremony http://t.co/WLCH9PUuFA— ESPN Olympics (@ESPNOlympics) February 5, 2014
The women's team remains unruffled by the change. During an interview with Greg Wyshynski of Yahoo Sports, U.S. Olympics hockey veteran Julie Chu explained, "We like the worlds format. The competition's great. But it's not something you can ever control. They give us a schedule. We see who we play. And it's game on."
Team captain Meghan Duggan told ESPN.com about the team's attention to detail: "We try to be crisp, we try to be sharp, we try to be the best-looking team in this whole tournament."
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With the added rest, the team has a better opportunity to be just that.
Duggan continued, "That burns in your heart every single day. How we prepare ourselves to get here and how we train, everything's done on the ice, off the ice in preparation to come out of here with a gold medal."
The high rapport between teammates is something to marvel when watching the women's Olympic hockey team. They have a great leader in Duggan, who told Mary Blake of CBS Boston about her work ethic:
I've been working really hard to put myself in a position to make this team and I just want to continue to work hard for the team moving forward, do anything I can, lead by example on and off the ice and be what the girls need when the times get hard.
Forward Hilary Knight is confident of the team's abilities:
We're amazing athletes. We're just as skilled as the men, if not more skilled in some areas. We're strong, we're fast, we're competitive, we're physical, and we're attractive. Come watch us.
There is no doubt that the loss to Team Canada in the finals back in 2010 still lingers heavily over this team. Now with the new format in place, Team USA can reignite their fiery, competitive attitudes while they rest before the toughest stretch of the tournament.