Team USA huddles up prior to the start of the women's ice hockey playoff semifinal match against Team Finland at the Olympic Winter Games Beijing 2022 on Feb. 14, 2022 in Beijing.
BEIJING — If the teams weren’t so good and the rivalry so intense, people might be getting tired of seeing the U.S. and Canada facing off yet again in a gold-medal game.
But you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone, fan or player, who’s feeling that way about what will be the sixth meeting to decide Olympic gold between the two biggest rivals in women’s hockey. Canada topped Switzerland and the U.S. knocked off Finland in semifinal action Monday, treating hockey fans everywhere to another round of what has been a decades-long heavyweight fight. And for just the second time at the Olympics, Team USA comes in as the defending gold medalist.
So no, there’s no fatigue about seeing that red maple leaf across the faceoff circle once more come Thursday night, certainly not among the members of Team USA.
“I think it’s one of the best rivalries in sports,” said defenseman Cayla Barnes, who had a goal and an assist Monday night in a 4-1 win against Finland. “Definitely looking forward to playing against a great Canadian team.”
It isn’t much of a surprise that the U.S. and Canada are facing off again for the Olympic gold medal. The rivals have been the top two teams in the world for years and that goes well beyond their meetings at the Olympics. They’ve met in 19 of 20 gold-medal games at the world championships and in 21 of 23 finals of the 4 Nations Cup. That’s in addition to countless exhibition games. Add it all up and it’d be hard to find two hockey teams that know each other better.
“It’s the Olympic final, we’re playing Canada, we’re excited,” said U.S. head coach Joel Johnson. “Whether everybody thought it would be this (matchup) or not, now we get to actually say that’s what’s happening, and we’ve got two days to prepare.
“I don’t think we’ve played our best game yet, so we’re excited to see that.”
The neighbors to the north are seeking to regain the biggest prize, Olympic gold. But they’ve won the most recent major title, the 2021 world championship. That overtime victory broke up a streak of five U.S. titles in a row. And then there was the recent My Why Tour exhibition series held across the U.S. and Canada this past fall. Canada won four of six games — and all four held on U.S. soil — as Team USA played well but just couldn’t finish its chances. While recent history can be a preview, at the same time the past is the past and doesn’t have much say in how things go Thursday night.