Canada to battle arch-rival U.S. for women's Olympic hockey gold
Sochi hero Marie-Philip Poulin, teammates seek unprecedented 5th Winter Games title
By Doug Harrison, CBC Sports
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One of the more anticipated showdowns at the Winter Olympics is set as Canada will vie for a fifth consecutive gold medal in women's hockey against arch-rival United States on Wednesday at 11:10 p.m ET in South Korea.
"On one hand it's like any other hockey tournament. On the other hand, it is our Stanley Cup," Canadian forward Brianne Jenner said. "It's what we dream about since we're little girls."
Marie-Philip Poulin, the hero in Canada's come-from-behind overtime win over the Americans in the 2014 final at Sochi, Russia, scored in Monday's 5-0 semifinal victory over the Olympic Athletes from Russia to extend the team's Winter Games win streak to 24 games.
In the other semifinal earlier Monday, Dani Cameranesi scored twice and added an assist, and goaltender Maddie Roonie made 14 saves in a 5-0 U.S. win over Finland.
"It's a great rivalry," U.S. head coach Robb Stauber told CBC Sports recently. "Canada is good, really good. And they're going to be good every time we play them, so we just stay focused on who we are and how we want to play in a way that gives us a good chance to get the outcome we want."
The next chapter in one of the biggest sporting rivalries will be written at Gangneung Hockey Centre. On Feb. 14, Canada was outshot 45-23 by the Americans but escaped with a 2-1 victory in a preliminary-round contest at Kwondong Hockey Centre.
Canada's 23 players, including nine Olympic rookies, arrived in Pyeongchang with confidence after taking five of six games versus the U.S. in a six-match exhibition series over the winter. However, the Americans rebounded to win two meetings at the Four Nations Cup in Florida, including a 5-1 decision in the final.
The U.S. has also won eight of the past 10 world titles — albeit the last two in OT versus the Canadians — but at the most prestigious women's tournament, it's been all Canada as the Americans haven't won Olympic gold since 1998 in Nagano, Japan. Canada defeated Sweden for gold in 2006 at Turin, Italy, the only final that didn't feature the Canadians and U.S.
In 2010, Poulin had both Canadian goals in a 2-0 victory over the U.S. in the gold-medal game at Vancouver. The 26-year-old Quebec City native worked her magic again four years later in Sochi to wrest away gold from the Americans.
With the U.S. leading 2-0 late in regulation, Brianne Jenner scored with 3:26 remaining. Poulin then forced OT with 55 seconds left on the clock and notched the winning goal at 8:10 of the extra period.
"She is a pure goal-scorer, one of the most prolific goal-scorers in the world, and the Americans are on to it," said former Canadian national team defenceman-turned analyst Cheryl Pounder, who isn't fond of rookie head coach Laura Schuler's decision to have Poulin at the point on the power play, which struck against OAR and is 4-for-21 in South Korea.
"She enjoys making plays with the puck and has great vision," Pounder said, "but when she [is on the point] … she is too far from the net and not using her greatest skill, which is that quick release."
Pounder did say Canada "gets it right" during Olympic years. Ahead of these Games, its players were centralized for seven months in Calgary, competing in a boys' midget triple-A league against 15-17-year-olds.
"[The players] live together and train full-time, much like the United States," she said. "The difference is the number of [pre-Olympic] games that they play. Canada in around the 50 mark, this year in particular, and the United States are in around the early 20s. That's [a] huge [difference].
"You want to play close games, [have] have high-pressure situations in your own zone [and have] the ability to come back and win. That's the big difference."
Two-time Olympic gold medallist Shannon Szabados made 14 saves for the shutout on Monday after turning aside 22 of 23 shots in a 4-1 victory over Finland in the preliminary round. Expect the 31-year-old to start the gold-medal contest, even though Genevieve Lacasse made 44 saves against the U.S. in the preliminary round.
Jennifer Wakefield scored her first two goals in South Korea against OAR, which lost 5-0 to Canada to open the tournament. Rebecca Johnston and Emily Clark — with her first-ever goal and point at the Winter Games — also beat Russian goalie Valeria Tarakanova, who allowed four goals on 31 shots before getting pulled. Johnston's power-play marker was scored against Nadezhda Alexandrova.
"Olympic Athletes of Russia battle hard, they're really good with their sticks, they play the body a lot," Jenner said. "I think that got us battle-ready."
Only the U.S. women's basketball team has a longer streak of consecutive Olympic gold medals at six.
With files from The Canadian Press