Olympic Women's Hockey 2014: US Loss to Canada in Early Showdown a Bad Sign

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Olympic Women's Hockey 2014: US Loss to Canada in Early Showdown a Bad Sign
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Did you feel that?

It was a women's hockey momentum shift.

The U.S. team had come into the Olympics with four straight wins over archrival Canada and a sense building that these Americans were ready for prime time.

But they weren't, at least not Wednesday. Canada beat the U.S. 3-2 in a preliminary game. Both teams will play in the semifinals in opposite brackets and are expected to play once again for the gold medal.

In one way there was nothing riding on this preliminary game, but in another there was something huge on the line for the Americans—proving to themselves they can beat Canada and end its 17-game Olympic winning streak when it matters most.

The most telling statistic indicating the Canadians will eventually go home with a fourth straight gold medal came in the third period when the skaters with the Maple Leafs on their red uniforms outshot the Americans, 12-3.

USA goalie Jessie Vetter, who played well even while giving up three goals, said on NBC after the game, "We played an overall good game, and we'll have to build off this as we move on to the semifinals.

This is the fifth time women's hockey has been contested at the Olympics. The first gold medal in Nagano went to the Americans, but the Canadians have taken the next three.

The Americans seemed to strut onto the ice Wednesday in Sochi. Their shoulders were square, their eyes staring straight through their opponents.

Matt Slocum/Associated Press

The U.S. team desperately wanted to erase a reputation of struggling at the Big Show. They seem to play well against their most hated opponents between Olympics, when no one is watching, yet they end up on the Olympic stage listening to the Canadian national anthem and watching their rivals drink beverages on the ice that aren't always alcohol-free.

The Americans led first when Hilary Knight tipped in a shot taken by Anne Schleper in the second period. This set off a massive celebration by the Americans. The lead held up until the aggressive Canadians rubbed the sluggishness off their skates and rediscovered how much success they could have if they just kept slamming Americans into the boards.

Matt Slocum/Associated Press

The winners scored three third-period goals and outshot the Americans 12-3 in the final 20 minutes.

Team USA seemed to lose its fight after a controversial goal that happened just as the whistle sounded. Play looked to have stopped slightly before the puck crossed the goal line after Vetter had it in her glove for a moment. But it was ruled good after a review (audio is not available during review). Vetter slammed her fists on the goal post in anger but that was the extent of the Americans' final period fight.

Vetter has a strong personality. She had written the words of the Constitution of the United States on her goalie mask, then was told to take them off because no political statements are allowed at the Olympics. Vetter laughed and said it was no big deal.

Whether this loss is a big deal is still to be determined.

In a preview of these Olympics, NBC analyst and former NHL player Mike Milbury told Al Michaels before the game:

Since 1990, there have been 19 World Championships or Olympic titles on the line, and 18 times these two teams have squared off. That is amazing. That makes Yankees-Red Sox look weak…

If you don’t think women’s hockey is tough, take a look at this thing.

Well, maybe it's not quite the Yankees-Red Sox yet, but Milbury is right about how tough the women are.

American forward Kelli Stack called the rivalry with Canada nasty after one of those four straight wins. "We don't like them, plain and simple," she said, according to a press release.

The Americans will like them a lot less if yet another time they end up second on the biggest stage women's hockey has.

But of all the Olympic events still to come, it's hard not to anticipate a USA-Canada rematch in the gold-medal game.

Watching the women crash and smash into the boards, give hip checks and use their sticks as weapons like the men is pure sports entertainment. 

And now, on to the semifinals and hopefully a Canada-U.S. rematch in the final. "Bring it on" was what Vetter seemed to be saying after the game when she asserted her team had played well.

Yes, bring it on.

 

Diane Pucin is the Olympics lead writer for Bleacher Report. She covered seven Games for the Philadelphia Inquirer and the Los Angeles Times. You can follow her on Twitter @mepucin.

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