2022 Beijing Olympics – Ice Hockey – Women’s Play-offs Semifinals – United States vs Finland – Wukesong Sports Centre, Beijing, China – February 14, 2022. United States players celebrate after the match. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
February 15, 2022
By Steve Keating
BEIJING (Reuters) – You can’t always be sure if it will snow at a Winter Olympics but you can safely bet that either Canada or the United States will skate away with the women’s ice hockey gold medal.
Women’s hockey became part of the Olympic programme at the 1998 Nagano Games, and for the seventh consecutive time either Canada or the United States on Thursday will be crowned champion, as they also have at every world championship.
The Canadians have been plotting their revenge since the Americans ended Canada’s run of four straight golds at the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics. They will get that opportunity after steamrolling into the final with a 10-3 win over fifth-ranked Switzerland, a team they had thumped 12-0 in Group play.
The U.S. squad has not been nearly as ruthless, grinding out a 4-1 semi-final win over Finland to reach the gold medal game, and a rematch after Canada beat the Americans 4-2 in a preliminary round contest to take an unblemished 6-0 record into the final.
If familiarity really does breed contempt, then there is no better example than Canada and U.S. women’s ice hockey.
The two teams met six times in the run-up to the Beijing Olympics and four of those games were decided by a single goal.
“Our history goes back to, obviously, 1998 and I think that’s probably (one) of the longest-running rivalries ever,” said Canadian forward Sarah Nurse, playing in her second Olympics.
The United States took that first gold in 1998, but fell to Canada in each of the next four Games before reclaiming the top of the podium four years ago.
“That rivalry is pretty unmatched and it’s always exciting when we get to play them,” Nurse said.
“But at the end of the day, we want to win a gold medal and we don’t really care who we’re facing.”
If there was any doubt about the Canadian resolve, that was answered in the first 10 minutes the semi-final, as Canada raced to a 4-0 lead before the opening period had reached the midway point.
After that, Canada took their foot off the gas, cruising to an 8-3 advantage after two periods, at which point reality hit home for the Swiss, who conceded the gold medal chase was all but over.
“After the second period, we said that this is for the next game,” said Switzerland’s Alina Muller. “We need to get the confidence for the next game.”
Switzerland will face off against Finland in Wednesday’s bronze medal game.
In their six games, Canada surrendered just eight goals while scoring 54, reaching double digits four times.
The Swiss celebrated each of their three goals against Canada as if they had won the Super Bowl.
These are the small victories other countries have had to satisfy themselves with when taking on Canada or the United States at a major championship.
Another Canada-U.S. gold medal final is sure renew the debate over women’s hockey’s place on the Olympic program.
The women’s tournament expanded from eight to 10 teams in Beijing, a sign that the sport is growing. But the gulf between the two North American powerhouses and the rest is seen by many hockey observers as wider than ever.
(Reporting by Steve Keating in Beijing; Editing by Bill Berkrot)
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