And now it’s onto the big one.
The U.S. women decidedly dispatched the Olympic Athletes from Russia, 5-0, Tuesday to remain perfect ahead of Wednesday’s date with undefeated Canada.
By now you know the history between these two teams. Since women’s hockey was introduced to the Olympics at the 1998 Nagano Games, the U.S. or Canada has won every gold medal, facing off in all but one of the five Winter Games.
After the U.S. won the inaugural gold, they’ve been shutout since, losing – in sometimes excruciating fashion – to Canada in three gold medal games.
And the most recent, still very much fresh on Team USA’s mind, was the worst loss yet.
The Americans had the Canadians hopelessly pinned, 2-0, in the gold medal game in Sochi, 3:26 away from vengeance.
What happened next has fueled the U.S. since.
Two quick goals by Canada to send the game to overtime, followed by one of the most heartbreaking goals in the history of the sport gave Canada the improbable win.
“Canada has obviously had our number in the Olympics, and in order to be the best, you have to beat the best,” forward Kendall Coyne recently said in an interview with NBC Olympics.com. “We’ve had their number in the World Championships, and they’ve had our number in the Olympics. Anytime you get the opportunity to play them, it’s exciting.”
And the U.S. has rebounded vs. Canada in the years following Sochi.
In the three World Championships since Sochi, the U.S. women have swept Canada, including two overtime paybacks.
Could that actually be a bad thing for Team USA? History says it may be. The Americans topped Canada in the 2005, 2009 and 2013 World Championships before losing to their rivals in the subsequent Olympics.
To gear up for PyeongChang, the two teams faced-off in eight exhibitions, with Canada winning five of the eight games.
But that doesn’t matter to U.S. coach Robb Stauber.
“We could have won them all and it wouldn’t matter,” Stauber told NBCOlympics.com. “We could’ve lost them all and it wouldn’t matter.”
PyeongChang play-by-play announcer John Walton echoed Stauber’s message.
“I don’t think the exhibition games fueled it: I think it’s always been there,” he said of the hatred between the teams. “You go back to Sochi — to come that close to gold and not get it, and the same thing happened in Vancouver. They don’t like each other. They’re pretty honest about that on both sides, so I think the USA-Canada game will be terrific once it gets here.”
Both teams have already clinched spots in the semifinal round, which begins Monday, Feb. 19. After a slow start in their tournament-opening game vs. Finland, the U.S. is rolling, outscoring opponents 7-0 in the last five periods. Canada, meanwhile, has been they typical their juggernaut self, dominating opponents 9-1 and looking every part of the gold-medal favorites.
These teams obviously know each other well by now, so what kind of game should we expect Wednesday in what looks like another gold-medal preview?
“It’s a great rivalry,” Team Canada coach head coach Laura Schuler said. “It’s best-on-best competition. It’s exciting hockey, it’s always back and forth. It’s usually determined by one goal or goes into overtime, I’m sure that’s what you’re gonna see come in the next couple of days here …”