Canadian women chasing elusive world hockey gold

The Canadian women's hockey team has beaten the U.S. for gold in four straight Olympic Games. Why can't they do the same at world championships lately? The teams face each other Monday in their first game at the world championships.

Canada opens tournament against USA on Monday

Team Canada's Rebecca Johnston (left), Lauriane Rougeau, Hayley Wickenheiser and Charline Labonte (right) show their disappointment after losing 3-2 to Team USA in the gold medal game at 2013 IIHF Womens World Ice Hockey championships. The Canadian women have lost five of the previous six world championship finals to the United States. (Fred Chartrand/The Canadian Press)

The Canadian women's hockey team has won four-straight Olympic golds, beating the U.S in three of them. Why can't they do the same at world championships lately?

"That's a good question. We've got a week to figure out how to do it," Canadian forward Hayley Wickenheiser said.

The Americans downed Canada to win five of the last six world titles, so they are subject to the reverse question. Why world titles and not Olympic gold?

"We get that question a lot to be honest," U.S. captain Meghan Duggan said. "You look at the last handful of world championships. I think we've won the last five of six and we all know how the Olympics have gone.

"That's why you play the game. You never know who is going to win."

Teams set to face off in tournament opener

The North American rivals open the 2016 women's world championship Monday against each other in a preliminary-round game in Kamloops, B.C.

While Finland, Russia and Switzerland have closed the gap somewhat on the frontrunners in women's international hockey, odds are on Canada and the U.S. meeting again for gold April 4 for a 17th time.

Sweden, Japan and the Czech Republic round out the field. Canada, the U.S., Finland and Russia are in Pool A, in which the top two teams in the preliminary round earn a bye to the semifinals. The bottom two face the top two from Pool B in the quarter-finals.

The U.S. defeated Canada 7-5 in last year's final in Malmo, Sweden, and 3-2 in Ottawa in 2013.

Trailing 2-0 with four minutes remaining in the 2014 Olympic final, Canada pulled off a stunning 3-2 overtime win in Sochi, Russia, for a fourth consecutive gold.

Brianne Jenner pulled Canada within one goal at 16:34. Marie-Philip scored both the equalizer at 19:05 and the overtime winner to preserve the run of Olympic gold.

But after winning the first eight women's world championships, Canada has won just twice — in 2007 and 2012 — over the last eight.

"I don't think there's a reason why we've won Olympics and not worlds," Wickenheiser said. "I have no answer for that.

"These tournaments come down to one game. It's performance on demand. It comes down to bringing your best game when it matters the most, consistency and rising to the occasion. I do believe our team has the ability to rise to the occasion."

The U.S. is a quicker team than Canada and boasts a superior power play with a 30 per cent success rate. They scored three power-play goals en route to gold in last year's championship game.

Canadian team more battle-ready

In an Olympic year, Canada plays a full schedule of games against males in the Alberta midget triple-A league, which makes them more battle-ready for that Olympic final.

Canada is a more seasoned group than a year ago in Malmo, where 10 players made their world championship debut.

Seven of them are in the lineup again in Kamloops, but the return of forwards Wickenheiser and Meghan Agosta, defenceman Meaghan Mikkelson and goaltender Charline Labonte injects extra big-game experience into this year's squad.

Wickenheiser's foot surgery, Agosta's police training and Mikkelson's pregnancy kept them out of last year's world championship. Labonte, the longest-serving member of the team after Wickenheiser, wasn't named to the 2015 team.

"Every time you have those big players in our roster, it's a huge advantage for us," Poulin said. "They have a lot of experience. It shows on and off the ice."

Canada's women are coached by former national team player Laura Schuler, while the U.S. have former NHL player Ken Klee behind their bench.

"We're a team capable of playing fast, a team capable of controlling the game, we have some players with some really good skill sets and also a team that's gritty, that's willing to go to the tough areas of the ice," Schuler said.

Wickenheiser, 37, will play in her 13th world championship and tie the record held by Finland's Karoliina Rantamaki.

She's played in many battles against the U.S. in her career with what she calls "another rumble" on tap Monday.

"That's a good word for it. For sure, it's a rumble," Duggan said. "It's tough, it's hard. You've got to be team tough and you've got to execute well. It's why we love playing in those games."