GANGNEUNG — Call it the surest thing at the modern Olympics: a Canada-U.S. showdown for the gold in women’s hockey that was set up on Monday.
But also remember that given the nature, history and intensity of the rivalry, it is one of the most anticipated finals of any team sport in the Games, summer or winter.
With a 5-0 win over the Olympic Athletes from Russia at the Gangneung Hockey Centre in Monday’s semifinal, Team Canada advanced to the final on Thursday and earned a chance to win its fifth Olympic gold in a row.
And sticking to the script, the Canadian women will face their familiar foes as the Americans earlier in the day breezed by Finland 5-0 in the other semifinal.
The predictable conclusion to the tournament earned Canada a sixth consecutive trip to the final and a fifth visit overall for the Americans. While the Canadians were sluggish at times in the opening 40 minutes on Monday, they moved a couple gears higher in the third, scoring three goals to take momentum into the gold medal game.
Many had hoped that other nations were catching the two women’s hockey powerhouses, but based on this tournament there’s still some work to do. The fact they each won in blowout fashion further cemented their dominance and added to the anticipation of Thursday’s throwdown.
The latest clash is layered with meaning, as it always seems to be with these two, guaranteeing the intensity will be off the charts.
“This is the world’s biggest stage,” said U.S. forward Hilary Knight. “This is the game that you want. This is the game we’ve been dreaming of and to have another opportunity to get back here, it’s huge.”
The Americans have been waiting for this game for what must seem like forever. Start with the four-year time frame dating back to the Sochi Olympics when they held a 2-0 lead with roughly four minutes remaining in the gold medal contest. In one of the greatest games in international hockey history, Canada stormed back to win 3-2 in overtime.
But really, the U.S. has been waiting 20 years since women’s hockey made its Olympic debut and they won their only gold medal. Canada has captured every one since and compiled a 24-game winning streak along the way.
The Americans generally hold the upper hand in non-Olympic years winning a pile of world championship titles, but helped along by its six-month “centralization” Canada gets it done in Olympic years.
The Canadians came here feeling confident after winning five of six games in a pre-tournament exhibition series against the U.S. But as these countries have shown repeatedly, however, in a one-game showdown past performances — recent and dated — can be tossed.
“We worked four years to put ourselves in position to compete for a gold medal,” American forward Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson said following her team’s semifinal win. “We’re ready to go battle in a couple days.”
As it always is with these two, a fierce battle is expected with the ultimate prize on the line. Here at the Pyeongchang Games, Canada swept through round-robin play with a 3-0 mark that included a 2-1 win over the U.S.
That one had its heated moments, including U.S. forward Amanda Kessel declaring they “put doubt” in the minds of the Canadians.
After a lazy-feeling two periods on Monday night, the Canadians cranked it up in the third which should leave a good taste heading into the final. Goals from Jennifer Wakefield — her second of the game — and Emily Clark just 31 seconds apart increased the Canadian lead from 2-0 to 4-0 2:30 into the period. Rebecca Johnston finalized the margin with just under six minutes left.
Wakefield opened the scoring 1:50 into the game when she picked up a feed from Natalie Spooner in the slot and pumped it past Russian goalie Valeria Tarakanova. Canadian captain Marie-Philip Poulin made it 2-0 in the second with a backhand that found the top corner.