The blowout portion of the schedule, at least for now, is over.
USA-Canada is on tap.
The most anticipated version of the women’s hockey rivalry may well come in the Olympic gold medal game, but their group play matchup Tuesday in Beijing (11:10 p.m. EST Monday) is expected to serve as a preview for that final showdown. It’s a rematch of the last three Olympic finals, including the 2018 thriller won by Team USA in a shootout in Pyeongchang.
“It’s one of the best rivalries in sports. I would put it up against anything. Any sport,” USA coach Joel Johnson told reporters Sunday, per the Washington Post, after his team breezed past Switzerland 8-0. “I’m telling you, for those who don’t have a familiarity with it, it’s absolutely must-watch. Anytime U.S. and Canada play, it could be on a pond — and you put two of those jerseys on, and certainly all of a sudden the intensity ramps up.”
USA, Canada and the other three teams in Group A will all automatically advance to the quarterfinal round (courtesy of their pre-Olympic rankings) that begins Friday. Regardless of Tuesday’s result, they are still expected to land the top two seeds, which would pit them on opposite sides of the bracket heading into the knockout rounds.
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But the matchup between heated rivals will serve as the first real test of the Beijing Winter Games after both teams mostly cruised through the start of the preliminary round. Team USA has outscored opponents 18-2 through its three wins while Canada had outscored opponents 23-2 in two wins heading into a Monday matchup with the Russian Olympic Committee.
The two teams have seen plenty of each other lately. They played six games in a pre-Olympic Rivalry Series that began in October, with Canada boasting a 4-1-1 record. The games themselves were much closer, though, with four decided by one goal, including three that went to overtime.
Team USA — who lost to Canada in group play of the 2018 Games before beating them in the final — came into the Olympics ranked No. 1 in the world by the International Ice Hockey Federation, with Canada close behind at No. 2. But the Americans have since lost one of their top offensive threats, Brianna Decker, to a broken ankle in the Olympic opener.
“It’s not even about the seeding,” Johnson said. “It’s about the pride. For Canada wearing the maple leaf and for us wearing the red, white and blue. It just never gets old.”