Best of enemies US and Canada will puck up the courage to do it again
No love lost between the two nations who dominate the women’s game
Canada’s Meghan Agosta-Marciano (left) scores what turns out to be the game-winning goal past Team USA’s goalie Jessie Vetter during the third period of their women’s ice hockey game at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics. Photograph: Matt Slocum/Reuters
Well this was fun. A game that was only taking place this early in the competition because of unashamed gerrymandering by the organisers provided everything they could have hoped for and more.
The women ice hockey players of Canada and the USA came together and rattled every nut, bolt and rivet of the Shayba Arena and set the table for what will, barring famine and/or pestilence, be the final this day week. God bless gimmickry.
Canada won 3-2 in a game that hummed throughout. The result didn’t matter in any meaningful way – both sides were already qualified for semi-finals that both will win next Monday – and yet they tore into it like they’d bugged each other’s team rooms and heard what they really thought of each other.
“I think there is always pride on the line between us – nobody wants to give an inch,” said Canada’s Hayley Wickenheiser, playing in her fifth Winter Olympics. “Whether it is gold medal or not, if feels like it’s a gold-medal game every time we play because we are the two best teams in the sport. We push each other, fans love to watch these games and it’s great hockey.”
Overlooked by officials
The last couple of times the sides met featured proper one-in-all-in brawls. Body checking is supposedly not allowed in women’s hockey but you wouldn’t know it to watch them. This was as bump and thump as you can get with hooking, tripping, roughing and checking all called for penalties and plenty more overlooked by the officials. The height of craic, in other words.
As it should be. Between them, they’ve only been beaten once at the games but someone other than each other since women’s ice hockey was introduced in 1988.
So far ahead of the field are they that they’ve always been kept apart in the opening rounds – in Vancouver four years ago Canada won their group games by an aggregate of 41-2, the US by 31-1.
When then IOC president Jacques Rogge warned that the whole show was in danger of becoming too uncompetitive, the organisers changed things around and put them in the same group so as to spice up the early rounds. It’s contrived and a blatant ratings-grab and not one person in the Shayba yesterday wanted it to end.
It even had a refereeing to-do to get excited about. After the US had jumped into a 1-0 lead – the first time Canada had gone behind in 1,057 minutes of Olympic competition – Canada scored twice inside 90 seconds. While the first was a simple finish from Meghan Agosta after the imperious Wickenheiser found her with a lovely flick pass, the second was a more contentious affair.