Canada, U.S. renew bitter rivalry at women's hockey worlds

With the women's world hockey championship beginning in Ottawa on Tuesday night (7:30 p.m. ET), Canada wants to avoid a repeat of last year's thrashing to the Americans as the two powerhouse nations renew their bitter rivalry.

Canadians want to avoid repeat of last year's thrashing in opener

Team captain Haley Wickenheiser, right, and Canada overcame an opening-game rout to beat Amanda Kessell (28) and the U.S. in the gold-medal game of the world championship last year. (Toby Talbot/Associated Press)

OTTAWA — The 9-2 trashing by the USA over Canada wasn’t a prediction anyone would have made when the two nations opened the women’s world championship a year ago in Vermont.

Canada went on to win the world title with a 5-4 overtime triumph over the United States, and now a year later the bitter rivals square off in their opening game of the 2013 women’s world tournament on Tuesday night (7:30 p.m. ET) in Ottawa.

Having a home crowd behind it helped propel Team USA to the lopsided win a year ago, and the Canadians hope a boisterous crowd at Scotiabank Place can be that proverbial seventh man — in this case woman — on the ice.

"We saw what it can do for us in Vancouver, just feeding off the crowd, the energy,’’ goalie Shannon Szabados of Edmonton, referring to a patriotic flag-waving at the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Winter Games, said Monday.

"It is a huge thing to have them behind us. We will try to use their energy, but we also have to create our own energy."

That shouldn’t be a problem.

Canada and the United States are the powerhouse teams at the world level, and no one else has won gold since the inaugural women’s world tournament was held in Ottawa in 1990. The two nations have met in all 14 previous finals with Canada winning 10, but the Americans taking three of the last four world titles.

Another Canada-U.S. final

Barring a massive upset, the bitter North American rivals will sweep through the preliminary round of the eight-team tournament, and will play for the world title a week Tuesday.

The race for the bronze medal has a bit more drama. The contenders are Switzerland, which beat Finland in the bronze-medal game a year ago, Sweden, Finland and the Russians, who have former Ottawa Senator Alexei Yashin serving as the team’s general manager.

Since 2010, neither Canada nor the USA have won back-to-back games against each other.  At the 2012 Four Nations Cup in Finland, Canada beat the Americans 3-1 in the preliminary round, but fell 3-0 to them in the final.

The North American domination is a product of more money being poured into development programs, and more talent than the rest of the field.  The results speak to the narrow competitive gap between them. That, and how they don’t play each other often except in the year leading up to the Olympic Games. Canada and the United States will face each other at least six times in tuning up for the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics.

But for the time being, the Canadians and Americans know the road to world gold runs through the other, and what happened in the tournament open a year ago has no bearing at all.

"That was one of those unusual games,’’ said U.S. coach Katey Stone. "Those games are going to happen sometimes and you can’t predict what is going to happen when you have so much talent on the ice."

U.S. veteran Julie Chu recalled how the first five minutes of the game set the tone.

"I think we scored three times in the first five minutes and that is a tough way to start,’’ she said, adding  "but when you look back at what the gold-medal game was like, that is what we expect, a hard-fought game."

Canada’s lesson

The Canadians saw it as a lesson learned, and one not to be repeated.

"It was a bit of a wake-up call for us, maybe the best thing for us,’’ said Szabados. "But we do not want to start that way this year."

Canada’s team captain Hayley Wickenheiser liked having Canada’s character being tested.

"You have to be ready right off the hop. Everything went right for them and everything went wrong for us,’’ said Wickenheiser, who has recovered from a knee injury and ready to play in her 12th world championship.

"I think we learned we have inner fortitude and the ability to come back from anything. If you can come back from a 9-2 loss and win, that is a big answer."