Women's final preview: USA vs. Canada

Feb 19, 5:57 PM

For the fourth time in five Olympic tournaments, the Canadian and American women's national teams will face off in the gold medal game.

In the history of the event, Canada has earned three gold medals (2002, 2006, 2010) and a silver (1998), while the U.S. has taken one one gold (1998), two silvers (2002, 2010) and a bronze (2006). 

As another point of reference, these two nations have squared off in the final at the Women's World Hockey Championship at every tournament since its inception in 1990, with Canada holding a 10-5 advantage.

Needless to say, this rivalry runs deep, and is set to reach new heights in Thursday's gold medal game in Sochi.

How they got here

Prior to the 2014 Olympics, these two teams met six times during a Canada-USA exhibition series. While Canada came out on top in the first two games, the U.S. swept the next four by a combined score of 14-4. This series also featured two full-out line brawls, adding further fuel to a fire that was already burning quite hot.

Unsurprisingly, both teams have taken care of the rest of the field with relative ease at the 2014 Olympics, with the only loss between them coming in their head-to-head matchup on Feb. 12

Canada took that game 3-2 on a 31-27 shot advantage, scoring three goals in the third after being shutout through two periods. Canada's second goal was mired in controversy, as the referee appeared to blow the whistle before Hayley Wickenheiser put the puck in the net. After a review, the goal stood while serving to heighten the tension between the two sides in the process.

Here's a look at how the two teams stack up stat-wise heading into the gold medal game.

CanadaStatUSA
13Goals20
168Shots120
7.74Team Shooting %16.7
28.57Power Play %27.2
90.91Penalty Kill %90

Goaltending tale of the tape

Canada split their four games between Shannon Szabados and Charline Labonte; the latter sparkled in a semifinal win over Switzerland on Wednesday and has stopped 39 of 41 shots overall, but according to Anouk Grignon of RDS, Szabados will get the nod in the final.

Szabados, 27, was in goal during the gold medal win over the U.S. in 2010, and was named Top Goaltender of the tournament, so Canada will be relying on her experience to get the job done in Sochi.

The Americans have relied primarily on 28-year-old Jessie Vetter in Sochi, a former NCAA standout with the Wisconsin Badgers and a member of Team USA since 2008. In the gold medal game of the 2011 IIHF Women's World Championship (against Canada, of course), Vetter made 51 saves to help her team win its third consecutive gold medal.

Both have played well in Sochi, but only one can add an Olympic gold medal to their resume on Thursday.

Shannon Szabados - CANStatJesse Vetter - USA
36Shots against55
35Saves50
1Goals allowed5
1Power play goals against2
0.972Save percentage0.909

Who to watch for

Team USA boasts four out of the top ten scorers in Sochi, and three in the top five alone. Kendall Coyne and Brianna Decker have shone with two goals and four assists apiece, but it's Amanda Kessel who has stolen the spotlight for the Americans. 

The 2013 Collegiate National Player of the year racked up 97 goals and 134 assists in 114 games as a member of the Minnesota Golden Gophers, and has registered three goals and three assists in four games in her Olympic debut.

The 22-year-old is looking to make an even bigger name for herself with a win over Canada, and she appears to be very much looking forward to the opportunity.

Canada is led in scoring by veteran forward Hayley Wickenheiser, who is vying for her fourth gold medal at the Olympics (and fifth overall). The 35-year-old has scored two goals and added three assists, while Meghan Agosta, Rebecca Johnston and Natalie Spooner have all chipped in four points apiece.

The real X-factor here could be Marie-Philip Poulin, the highly touted 23-year-old who has scored only one goal so far in Russia. Poulin scored both goals in Canada's 2-0 win over the U.S. in the gold medal game in 2010, and her team could greatly benefit from such an offensive explosion by the talented forward on Thursday.

The latest chapter in the rivalry between these two great teams is set to get underway at 9 pm local time (12 pm EST) and if you're any kind of hockey fan, you won't want to miss it.

Feb 20, 4:18 PM

CAN 3, USA 2 (OT): Canada wins Olympic gold in women's hockey with historic comeback

Feb 20, 4:18 PM

Paul Henderson. Sidney Crosby. Marie-Philip Poulin. 

The Canadian women's ice hockey team vaulted themselves right to the top of the list of "classic Canadian hockey victories" with a stunning comeback over the United States of America on Thursday.

The Canadian women scratched and clawed and got a couple of very fortunate bounces on their to erasing a two goal deficit late in the third period. Poulin scored both the game-tying goal and the game winner, cementing herself as one of the best players in women's hockey and a Canadian legend.

It was actually the second straight Olympic games in which Poulin had scored two goals in the gold medal game. It was also the second straight Olympic games in which Poulin had scored the game winning goal. 

While there was elation on the victorious Canadian side, there was only desolation for the American women. They'd played so well. They were so close. They got so unlucky.

"It hurts," American forward Kendall Coyne told reporters. "It’s tough to swallow right now, but I think when we go back in the room and we sit down with the family that we have, it makes everything better."

Added American defenseman Megan Bozek: "We train our whole lives to win a gold medal. We didn’t train for a silver, we trained for a gold medal."

Meanwhile the Canadian side sought to explain their frantic, gold medal winning late game push. 

Canadian winger Brianne Jenner - who scored the first Canadian goal with under four minutes to play in the third period - told CBC after the game (via Yahoo! Sports) that a comeback was possible because of "our conditioning and our heart."

Shannon Szabados offered a similar explanation. "This team was built for pressure," she told Sportsnet's Chris Johnston.

The joy of the Canadian side and the misery of the American skaters after Poulin's overtime winner:

USA Hockey executive Brian Burke offered a vociferous defense of women's hockey after the mesmerizing, high-paced, massively entertaining contest:

As did Buffalo Sabres forward Zenon Konopka, albeit somewhat less eloquently:

It was an entertaining game and a tremendous showcase for a sport whose place at the Olympic Games has been questioned over the year. But it wasn't without its controversy. 

There was a soft slashing call in overtime that negated an American power-play. Just moments later, American winger Hilary Knight was called for cross-checking when she tripped up Canadian forward Hayley Wickenheiser who was on a breakaway.

Knight called it a bogus call after the game, although she did appear to make contact with Wickenheiser's skate. Whatever it was, it certainly wasn't cross-checking.

Read Justin Bourne's 10 Thoughts on the game, or scroll down for a complete game story.

Feb 20, 2:55 PM

CAN 3, USA 2 (OT): Miraculous comeback from Canada in gold medal victory

Feb 20, 2:55 PM

It was a miraculous, historic comeback.

Down by two goals with 3:26 remaining in the gold-medal game, Canada's women's ice hockey team stormed back to tie before taking advantage of a power play to stun the U.S. 3-2.

The game winner was scored in over-time by Marie-Philip Poulin, who also scored the game-tying goal with less than a minute to play. 

It was a golden goal, and one of the most memorable moments from the entire Olympic games. 

Feb 20, 2:28 PM

CAN vs. USA: Canada ties gold medal game with less than one minute to play

Feb 20, 2:28 PM

Team Canada has managed an epic, historic comeback in the gold-medal game of the women's ice hockey tournament on Friday. 

Down two goals with less than 3 1/2 minutes remaining in regulation, Canada roared back to tie on goals from Brianne Jenner and Marie-Philip Poulin. 

Canada beat the U.S. in the preliminary round and then was down for the entirety of the gold-medal game before miraculously tying it up late. If you watched the men's tournament in 2010, this all sounds vaguely familiar - and might not augur well for Team Canada. 

Feb 20, 2:16 PM

CAN vs. USA: Brianne Jenner cuts into American lead, sets up furious finish

Feb 20, 2:16 PM

Canadian forward Brianne Jenner scored late in the third period of Friday's gold medal game between Canada and the United States. Jenner's goal bounced in off of the knee of an American defender and cut the American lead to just one goal with roughly three minutes to play.

Feb 20, 1:55 PM

CAN vs. USA: Team USA takes commanding two goal lead

Feb 20, 1:55 PM

With only 15 minutes to play in the third period of the gold medal women's ice hockey game between the United States of America and Canada, Team USA has seized a commanding two goal lead in the third period.

Alex Carpenter scored the insurance marker early in the frame, converting a Hilary Knight feed and beating Shannon Szabados at the goal mouth.

Canada will need something pretty special to get back into this game...

Feb 20, 1:42 PM

CAN vs. USA: Team USA leads 1-0 after 40 minutes

Feb 20, 1:42 PM

In the gold medal women's hockey game in Sochi on Friday, Canada and the United States of America - two juggernauts in the sport - are locked in a fast paced, physical struggle through 40 minutes.

The United States has the upper hand thanks to a goal by captain Meghan Duggan, scored midway through the second period. 

Though Team USA is leading, Canada controlled play for much of the second period and dominated the United States in the third period of its preliminary round game this past weekend. Can Canada do it again?

The atmosphere at Bolshoy Ice Dome is heated:

The players themselves? Of course they're into it:

Canada will look to rally in what should be a phenomenal period of hockey. Should be fun.

Feb 20, 1:39 PM

CAN vs. USA: Team USA captain Meghan Duggan opens the scoring

Feb 20, 1:39 PM

The American women's ice hockey team has taken a one-goal lead in the gold-medal game against a Canadian side it hasn't beaten in 16 years in Olympic competition.

American captain Meghan Duggan got Team USA on the board, beating Shannon Szabados with a wrist shot that the Canadian netminder never saw due to a screen in the slot.

After a high-paced first period, the second frame has been low-event with the two sides combining for just eight total shots through 16 minutes. 

Can the United States hold on for a victory? When the two sides met in the preliminary round, Canada defeated the United States on the strength of a mammoth third period rally. They'll look to repeat that performance with a gold medal on the line.

Feb 20, 12:54 PM

CAN vs. USA: Shannon Szabados a wall early on as Canada, USA scoreless after 20 minutes

Feb 20, 12:54 PM

It's scoreless after 20 minutes in the gold medal women's hockey game between Canada and the United States.

Despite the contest's frenetic pace and both teams receiving multiple power-play opportunities, neither side has managed to beat Canadian netminder Shannon Szabados or American goalie Jessie Vetter.

Szabados stole the show in the first period. The Canadian goaler made a series of completely remarkable saves in the first period and helped Canada weather an early storm. 

On one short-handed sequence in particular, Szabados unfurled her glove and absolutely robbed American defender Anne Schleper with what may have been the save of the tournament.

Feb 20, 12:25 PM

CAN vs. USA: Women's hockey gold medal game underway

Feb 20, 12:25 PM

The two heavyweights of women's hockey face off in Sochi on Thursday, with gold on the line. 

The United States hasn't defeated Canada at the Olympics since the gold medal game in Nagano in 1998. Can they bump a 16 year slump today?

Not if these ladies have anything to say about it: