If you missed Canada beat the United States, 3-2, in their Group A preliminary round matchup on Wednesday, you missed an excellent contest.
And you also missed arguably the best and most heated rivalry the Sochi Games have to offer.
There were goals. There was non-stop action. There was intensity. There was hitting (some of it ignored, some of it called). There was some pretty poor officiating, just to ramp up the postgame ire. And there was controversy, as it appeared a whistle had been blown before Hayley Wickenheiser scored the go-ahead goal in the third period.
From the Associated Press (via ESPN):
A video—and presumably audio—review confirmed the puck went into the net before the whistle.
"You celebrate when you see the puck cross the line,'' said Wickenheiser, who is participating in her fifth Winter Games. "It doesn't matter how."
But Vetter said she thought the whistle had blown before the puck came loose. American coach Katey Stone was even more sure of it.
"I did hear a whistle blow before the puck went in,'' U.S. coach Katey Stone said. "But, more importantly, I said to our players, 'Regardless of what happens, let's be ready."'
What makes the games between the United States and Canada so great is that it checks off all the boxes that make up a rivalry.
There is a history between the teams. Heck, the countries neighbor one another. They are the two most talented squads in the competition. They really, truly despise one another. They play different styles—the United States prefers a more open and flowing game, while Canada is more physical and wants to slog teams down—and everyone knows styles make fights.
And even when the stakes aren't that high—this match was ultimately for seeding, nothing else—they bring everything they have. Canada has the mental edge now, having won this match, while the United States has the motivation to earn retribution.
Of course, you could also argue that Canada has the mental edge given their overwhelming success at recent Olympics. From ESPN Stats and Information:
The Canadians have won the last three gold medals in this event. Twice they've beaten the United States in the final, and the two countries are the only ones to have won gold in the event (the United Stated did so in 1998) and have met in three of the four finals.
And even in this game when the United States was leading, it felt like Canada had dictated the style of the contest and it was only a matter of time before they would break through. Soon enough, they did just that in the third period, scoring three goals in that decisive frame.
But the United States at least made things interesting down the stretch, as Anne Schleper scored with just over a minute remaining. They blitzkrieged the Canadian zone after that, but to no avail.
It seems extremely likely that these teams will meet again with a gold medal on the line. Both sides are too talented to fail in that pursuit. The question will be, can the United States finally make this an even rivalry once again?
Or will Canadian dominance over women's hockey continue into a fourth straight Olympics?
If you aren't chomping at the bit to find out, you'll be missing out on the top rivalry in the Sochi Games.
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