The conversation can go on for ages — what’s the best rivalry in the history of sports? Is it Red Sox-Yankees? What about Lakers-Celtics? Or maybe Packers-Bears?
Each of those rivalries are all-time classics, but one can argue the rivalry between the United States and Canadian women’s hockey teams absolutely belongs in the discussion.
The U.S. and Canadian women have faced off for the gold medal in all but one of the past six Olympic Winter Games dating back to 1998, when women’s hockey first became an Olympic event. And at this year’s Games, both teams are once again favored to reach the gold medal final and square off for the title.
But before either team can start thinking about a title, they have to prepare for their preliminary tilt Monday night.
The U.S. is coming off an 8-0 drubbing of Switzerland in which five different players netted goals — Hilary Knight, Kelly Pannek and Jesse Compher each found the back of the net two times apiece. Still unbeaten through three contests, the Americans have outshot their opponents 180-36 — you read that right — and own a stellar goal differential of plus-16. They’ve only allowed two goals throughout the tournament, and neither of them came at even strength.
Canada, meanwhile, has somehow found a way to be even more dominant. Not only are they outshooting their opponents 167-56 through three games, but they’ve also outscored their adversaries 29-3 (twenty-nine to three!) to start the Olympic tournament. Sarah Fillier, a first-time Olympian for Canada, has a tournament-leading five goals through three games. She even came close to netting a sixth against the ROC Monday morning, but the play was reviewed and deemed offside by the slimmest of margins. Natalie Spooner has also had an impressive tournament thus far. She currently leads all players competing at the Olympics in both assists (8) and points (10).
While the Americans may be the reigning Olympic champs, they’re still entering Monday night’s game with an underdog mentality. Canada took down the U.S. in four of their six matchups during the My Why Tour in the fall, and the Americans have been itching to get back on the ice with Canada since the remaining three games of the series were cancelled due to COVID-19 concerns.
“Our team is right where we need to be at the right time,” said U.S. forward Amanda Kessel after Sunday morning’s victory over Switzerland. “We had a bunch of games cancelled against (Canada) the past few months, so we have been waiting for that day to get another chance to play them.”
Games between Canada and the U.S. are always heated. It’s customary to see large scrums break out after whistles, and it’s not atypical for those scrums to result in punches being thrown. But as much as the two neighboring countries lock horns on the ice, they’ve also formed somewhat of an appreciation for one another. Rivalries like this one don’t come around often, and when they do, it’s fun for everyone involved.
“Canada and us, we share a special bond and that makes for great hockey and a beautiful rivalry,” said Knight. “We are really looking forward to it, and I am sure they are too.”
Their preliminary tilt does hold a little bit of weight as well. The winner of the prelim will enter the playoffs as the top seed in Group A, and the loser will be the No. 2 seed. The path to the gold medal game will be significantly easier for the top seed, which will face off against the No. 3 seed in Group B while the No. 2 seed would take on the No. 2 seed from Group B in the quarterfinals. For the U.S. and Canada, though, just about every path to the gold medal game is favorable. They’re the two best teams in the tournament by a country mile, and it would take a monumental collapse for either squad not to advance to the final.
The puck will drop for USA-Canada Monday night at 11:10 p.m. ET. The game can be streamed on NBCOlympics.com, the NBC Sports app and Peacock, and it will be televised nationally on USA with a re-air set for Tuesday evening at 5 p.m. ET.