Let's call a spade a spade, folks—women's hockey is not one of the premier events of the Winter Olympics. It doesn't come with the level of anticipation of the men's tournament, the women's figure skating competition or the various alpine skiing events.
There is a hierarchy of popular events at the Winter Olympics—especially in the United States, where many of these events aren't very popular outside of the Olympics—and women's hockey isn't very high on the list.
And that's why the rivalry between the United States and Canada is so important, and why anything less than these teams meeting in a gold-medal rematch would be highly disappointing.
Here's something to consider: The IOC has criticized the level of competition in the women's game before, which led to some folks wondering if the sport could be removed from the Winter Games altogether, although they are said to be pleased with the Sochi tournament thus far.
And so, while the IOC ultimately wants more balance, having a rivalry to market like the one between Canada and the United States in the interim is vitally important.
Joe DeLessio of New York Magazine broke down the history of this epic rivalry:
Since women's hockey became an Olympic sport in 1998, the countries have combined to win every gold medal and all but one silver. Since the women's hockey World Championships were introduced in 1990, the tournament's been staged 15 times, and the two countries have met in the finals every single time. They're so dominant, in fact, that the structure of this year's Olympic tournament was changed in an effort to cut down on the number of times the U.S. and Canada would blow out opponents en route to the gold-medal game.
This is the gold-medal game everyone wants to see. These are the two best countries in the world in this sport. Only the United States seems capable of ending Canada's 18-game winning streak in the Olympics.
Canada won its preliminary-round matchup, 3-2, but the game was electric throughout and even involved a bit of controversy, as the whistle appeared to blow before Hayley Wickenheiser's go-ahead goal in the third period trickled across the line.
It may have been a preliminary game, but it didn't feel like one. That's a testament to the rivalry, one Canada coach Kevin Dineen said is as good as any he's ever been around in hockey (or any other sport, for that matter). His comments, via Shira Springer of The Boston Globe:
There are lots of good rivalries in hockey. I’ve been a part of them, being a Whaler playing against the Bruins. I spent a lot of years in New England and I know the Red Sox and the Yankees rivalry.
This one is the real deal. I think there’s a mutual respect there. Sometimes to be really good, you have to have a foil.
Quite simply, there isn't a better rivalry in these games. The United States men will be gunning for Canada in hockey, but they aren't the only gold-medal contenders in the sport. Russia and the United States have a history dating back to the famous 1980 Games, but let's be honest—that game represented far more than a simple sporting event between the Americans and the Soviets.
There are individual rivalries in the various sporting events between individuals, but there's nothing as intense as the United States facing Canada in women's hockey. They are talented, hungry and truly don't like one another.
It's an old-school rivalry, folks, and it deserves to be settled at these games with a gold medal on the line. Anything less will be a huge disappointment in these games and will keep a pretty big spotlight from shining on the sport in Sochi.
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