By Rodrigo Verney, February 18 2022—
How we got here:
The Olympic women’s ice hockey rink has been the stage for many great matchups that will be forever remembered. From Haley Irwin hitting the puck mid-air to tie the game against the USA, down to the unified Korean hockey team playing as one, this modality has so much history behind it that it seems every crack left on the ice by skates can be traced back to an eternalize Olympic moment.
Amidst these battles, there is one narrative that always appears regardless of the Olympics’ year and country — the clash between team USA and team Canada, the neighbours’ rivalry.
The USA and Canada matchup has much weight to it. This encounter was set to be a classic competition since its inception. The two nations already had a strong hockey background and they were ready to face off at the 1998 Winter Olympics in Japan. After a thrilling final run, beating the host team in the first round 13–0, team Canada came face-to-face with their neighbours to the south at the end of the preliminary round.
The result was a loss by three points, which was the first taste we had of the encounter. Unfortunately, the same result repeated in the finals, when team USA defeated team Canada 3–1. A tough first final loss that team Canada would not let the USA get used to.
In 2002, the Winter Olympics came to the USA and the pressure to win the gold medal was at an all-time high for the home team. From the beginning of the tournament, people could tell what the finals matchup would be, as both Canada and the USA came out as the leaders of their respective groups by a large margin, not losing once.
The semifinals saw the USA against Sweden and Canada against Finland. Both defeated their matchups with ease and coincidentally by four points each. The 2002 finals ended up where the 1998 finals left off — with Canada and USA meeting for a second time. However, this time around, the USA was on her turf. After finishing the game 3–2, team Canada won their first gold medal on US soil.
The next four years rolled by and the rivalry only escalated, as the USA didn’t take it too kindly for the home loss. Two teams that couldn’t stand losing to each other rose again as the leaders of their group with flawless records. The semifinals seemed like a done deal, as the USA met Sweden once more and Canada was matched with Finland again.
After an impressive 6–0 victory, team Canada could only wait to beat the USA once again. However, Sweden came in clutch and took Canada’s rival out of the race in a contested overtime match. As much as they fought against the USA, Sweden was outplayed by team Canada. This win gave them their second gold in two years.
The 2010 and 2014 Olympics saw much of the same story, as Canada and the USA kept their unrivaled leadership on the boards and faced off in the finals once again. However, the path was clear for Canada to reign as they defeated the USA both times, including a gold medal win at Vancouver, making this their fourth consecutive title — a feat that was so astonishing that they became the team to beat in subsequent Olympics. If you wanted to make it to the finals, you had to go through Canada.
Things looked like they couldn’t get any better, but then it came to the greatest challenge for any champion — sustaining greatness. By the time 2018 rolled around, the teams got better and stronger, which led to Canada being challenged more than compared to previous years. Even though they pulled through and had an amazing run, making it to the finals after beating the Olympic Athletes from Russia (OAR) in the semifinals, Team USA won in overtime 3–2.
After putting an end to the Canadian dominance, Team USA went into the 2022 Olympics more avid than ever to repeat their championship run, while Canada looked to regain the top spot on the podium. The stage was set for a great rivalry to thrive. One team looking to prove their place as the new dominant force and a strong team looking to re-establish her reign. No one doubted that their matches would be historic at these winter Olympics.
Team Canada decided to win it all once again. And with the team being once again led by veteran champion Marie-Phillip Poulin and coached by the veteran Troy Ryan, they were looking finals bound. The team wanted to make that clear as well when they wore their beautiful red Canadian uniform. The atmosphere was palpable from the moment they first skated on the rink. Canada would make a statement — it’s finals or nothing.
Canada looks to regain what it lost:
The tournament began as the others did. Canada ruled the group with a perfect record of 4–0. Right behind was their rival with a single loss. Their leadership continued to the playoff rounds as we would expect from these two giants. The quarterfinals rolled in and team Canada surprised everyone with an impressive eleven-to-nothing win over Sweden. The USA also racked up her own wins as she passed through to the quarterfinals by beating the Czech Republic.
The semi-finals just accentuated the tension between the two nations. Canada once again rolled through Switzerland as Sarah Nurse, the Canadian forward, racked up so many goals she went on to be the leading scorer of the Beijing Winter Olympics. Team Canada made their way to the finals, waiting for their rival’s fate.
The USA doesn’t back down from a challenge so easily. Team USA found themselves paired up with Finland for the semi-finals and won. Defeating Finland by three goals, the USA showed that they weren’t willing to leave the Olympics with a silver medal. They were ready and willing to face their neighbors to the north. Without a hint of preoccupation, the USA was determined to stop Nurse’s campaign and become back-to-back Olympic champions.
Canada faces off against its biggest adversary:
The finals matchup began with a heavy atmosphere — years of confrontation to be decided within 60 minutes. The rink was clearly too small. The match began with team USA taking the reins early on with a few decent attacks. However, to no avail. Team Canada opened the scoreboard early on. The first goal was courtesy of Nurse, the second came from the captain’s hockey stick.
The second period had Poulin taking the puck to the bottom of the net once again to help team Canada to a 3–0 lead. This did put them in a much-needed vantage position. Although, they weren’t uncontested. Team USA came with a goal of their own right at the end of the second period. All would be decided in the last period.
The final moments of this match were made of a well-balanced dispute that made it difficult for both sides to score — Canada, seeking to end this match and USA wanting to send it to overtime. Neither team had a lot of opportunities to score, that was until team USA found an opening and scored one last goal before the buzzer with under a minute left on the clock.
For as much as it was impressive, this goal wasn’t able to tie the game and team Canada were crowned champions once again, completing the amazing journey all these players went through over the course of 28 years of rivalry history.