The Canada-U.S. women’s hockey rivalry is one of hockey’s greatest; for these two, there’s no such thing as silver. Later this afternoon, they’ll face-off for Olympic gold in front of a raucous crowd at Canada Hockey Place in downtown Vancouver. How do they match up?
Canada has two great lines. The U.S. has a deeper bench, and can roll four. Even Team USA’s fourth line, with Karen Thatcher and youngsters Erika Lawler and Jocelyne Lamoureux—one half of the team’s twins—can compete. Jocelyne’s sister Monique has been playing on the first line with Jenny Potter and young phenom, Hillary Knight.
The U.S. shoots better, but Canada’s Meghan Agosta—who has nine goals in four games—can score with her eyes closed; Hayley Wickenheiser, over the years, has evolved into an unselfish, cerebral playmaker, more likely to set up the play than shoot.
Potter and Natalie Darwitz are the top scorers for the U.S.: each has 11 points. The U.S. has scored 40 goals on 183 shots during the Games for a 21.86 efficiency tournament—the best at the Games. Canada is second at 19.91, with 46 goals on 231 shots.
Canada has a stronger defense than their American counterparts. Team USA standouts are 192-lber Angela Ruggiero, unquestionably the best defenseman in the game, and the U.S.’s soul and physical presence. Two-time Olympian, Caitlin Cahow is also a joy to watch.
Canada, on the other hand, is bigger and will play a more physical game. Rookie Catherine Ward, who plays for McGill, leads the team in ice time, with 20 minutes 7 seconds, and is plus-13; Canada’s other defensive standouts include Becky Kellar, Colleen Sostorics and Carla MacLeod.
The U.S. is a younger, less experienced team, with 15 first-time Olympians on its 21-player roster; Canada has just seven Oly rookies.
WHO TO WATCH:
Over the course of the tournament, Meghan Agosta, who is currently studying law at Pennsylvania’s Mercyhurst College, has evolved into Canada’s next major star. She’s one of the fastest women in the game, has great patience with the puck and an uncanny ability to find the hole; she leads the tournament in goals. She’ll flat-out tell you that her intention is to be the best player in the world. She’s going to get there—and sooner than anyone had thought.
She and Canada’s 18-year-old phenom, Marie-Philip Poulin—whose top-shelf backhand against Sweden wound up on TSN’s highlight reel—are the future of the women’s game in Canada.
USA’s Jessie Vetter, the reigning Patty Kazmaier Award winner as the NCAA’s top player, has blocked 41 of 42 shots in the tournament so far.
Coach Mel Davidson hasn’t announced who’ll be backstopping for Canada. Kim St-Pierre and Shannon Szabados have been splitting time for Canada; Szabados, the youngest of Canada’s three goalies at 23, started Canada’s last game—a 5-0 semi-final win over Finland, on Monday.
“Think about it: they’re the defending gold medalists, they’re the No. 1-ranked team,” says Team USA’s Ruggiero. “We don’t have that pressure. We’re just going to be able to go out and just play. I don’t envy Canada in these Games. They have the weight of their nation on their shoulders. Canada can deny it as much as they want—but there’s the weight of a nation on them. And we see that. And I know they see that. And they’re going to try to diffuse it as much as they can.”
“Every one of them is saying it in the media—so we’re hearing it every day,” Team Canada’s Jayna Hefford said yesterday, in response to questions about the pressure Canada faces at home in Vancouver.