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US faces Canada again in women’s hockey for gold

BEIJING (AP) – American assistant captain Hilary Knight calls it “a beautiful rivalry”. Canadian captain Marie-Philip Poulin sums it up as “very fun”.

Don’t be fooled by the pleasantries. One of international sports’ fiercest and longest-running grudge matches will play out for the second time at the Beijing Olympics, with the meeting tomorrow between the United States (US) and Canada determining who goes home with gold.

“These are the the games that we live for,” US captain Kendall Coyne Schofield said following a 4-1 semifinal win over Finland.

“Everyone’s been so resilient through the pandemic with the ups and downs, the cancellations, postponements and finding ways to train, and it’s for this moment.

“We’re going to empty the tanks, and this is what we came here to do.”

The US is the defending Olympic champion after rallying to beat Canada 3-2 in a shootout at the 2018 Pyeongchang Games.

Team Canada players celebrate after a goal during a women’s semifinal hockey game against Switzerland. PHOTO: AP

The Canadians are considered the favourites this time after steamrolling to a 6-0 record and outscoring opponents 54-8, including a 4-2 win over the US in group play.

Canada also had the edge over its cross-border rivals since Poulin scored the gold-medal-winning goal in a 3-2 overtime win over the US at the world championships in August to end the Americans’ streak of five tournament titles.

Canada is 5-1-1 in the past seven meetings against the US since.

Overall at the Olympics, which added women’s hockey in 1988, Canada is 6-3 against the US, with four gold medals to the Americans’ two.

Success aside, the lingering memory of 2018 stings.

“In all honesty, it was very anti-climactic for us to lose in a shootout, because it didn’t feel as if you lost a game,” said Canada forward Sarah Nurse, who leads the tournament with 16 points on four goals and 12 assists.

“It almost felt like unfinished business. So going into this gold-medal game, regardless of who we play, we’re here to finish business and win a hockey game.”

Nurse spoke following a 10-3 semifinal win over Switzerland, and before knowing who Canada would face.

It’s only fitting that it’s the US, with the two countries meeting for the sixth time in seven Olympic finals. The exception was 2006, when Canada won the final against Sweden, which beat the US in the semifinals.

The game tomorrow will mark the fourth time that the US and Canada will have met twice in the same Olympic tournament.

In the first two instances, the Americans (1998 Nagano) and Canadians (2014 Sochi) won both times. In 2018, the US won the title after a 2-1 loss to Canada in group play.

The challenge for the Americans is containing Canada’s relentlessly dynamic, quick-strike transition attack, which scored five times in a first-period span of 3:24 against Switzerland to set an Olympic record for the fastest five goals. Against the Americans, Canada overcame a 2-1 deficit by scoring three times in a span of 5:25.