GANGNEUNG, SOUTH KOREA – It’s a familiar routine, one that the U.S. and Canada have grown accustomed to during their long reign as the superpowers of women’s hockey. No matter how many other teams they might play, no one wants to talk about anything other than their rivalry.
Things haven’t been any different in Pyeongchang, where both teams have been peppered with questions about each other since they arrived at the Olympic Village. Late Tuesday night, they could finally join the conversation. The two heavyweights will renew their Olympic rivalry Wednesday (9 p.m. Central time) on the final day of pool play, in a game expected to be a preview of the gold medal matchup.
Each has a 2-0 record after Tuesday’s games, as the Americans beat the Olympic Athletes from Russia 5-0 and Canada knocked off Finland 4-1. Already, both have locked up places in Monday’s semifinals, but that doesn’t drain any of the drama from their long-running duel.
“Every game against them is special,’’ said Canadian forward Marie-Philip Poulin, who scored the goals that beat the U.S. in the past two Olympic gold medal games. “It’s a big rivalry. To be part of it, to be able to wear that maple leaf every time, we take so much pride in it.
“With the group that we have, we’re really confident. We’re very ready, and we’re really excited.’’
The dominance of the U.S. and Canada led the Olympics to change the format of the women’s tournament beginning in 2014. The top four seeds are placed in Group A; in Pyeongchang, those four are the U.S., Canada, Finland and the Olympic Athletes from Russia. The other four teams are in Group B.
After pool play, the two Group A teams with the best records move directly to the semifinals. The other two Group A teams go to the quarterfinals, where they play the top two finishers in Group B.
The U.S. has beaten Canada in the gold medal game in eight of the past 10 world championships, including the past four in a row. Canada, though, has captured the past four Olympic gold medals. The Canadians also went 5-3 against the Americans during the run-up to the Winter Games, closing the pre-Olympic schedule with a four-game winning streak.
The usually prolific U.S. offense lost its punch during that span, managing only three goals. It has scored eight in its two pool-play games at the Olympics and burst out of a shooting rut with 50 shots on goal Tuesday, a performance that coach Robb Stauber would like to see repeated.
“In the first period [against the Russians], we missed some opportunities to get the puck to the net,’’ Stauber said. “You’re not always going to score. But if you’re not taking the opportunities you’re given, it’s going to come back and bite you.
“We just have to stop doing that. And clearly we did in the second and third [periods].’’
The Americans piled up 43 shots in the final 40 minutes against the Russians. Their dominant second period included two goals in six seconds from forward Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson, a record for the two fastest goals in an Olympic men’s or women’s tournament.
Warroad’s Gigi Marvin added a goal and an assist, and Hannah Brandt of Vadnais Heights scored her first Winter Games goal in the third period. Goaltender Nicole Hensley stopped 13 shots for the shutout. Maddie Rooney of Andover, who played in net in Sunday’s 3-1 victory over Finland, was scratched Tuesday.
The U.S. was involved in a mini-controversy earlier Tuesday, when USA Today reported that Hensley and fellow goaltender Alex Rigsby might have to remove or cover the Statue of Liberty images on their goalie masks.
The International Olympic Committee considered the image to be a potential violation of its prohibitions on political messages, prompting talks with USA Hockey on Tuesday afternoon. Amid an uproar, the IOC determined Lady Liberty could stay.