Another chapter in a decades-long duel is about to be written in Beijing.
Canada and the United States clashing for Olympic women’s hockey gold Thursday (11:10 p.m. ET Wednesday) may have been expected.
Nothing is predictable when women from the two countries step on the ice with sticks in their hands.
“I think that rivalry’s pretty unmatched,” Canadian forward Sarah Nurse said.
Canada has reached every final since women’s hockey made its Olympic debut in Nagano, Japan, in 1998, and took on the U.S. for gold in all but one in 2006.
The Americans took the inaugural title in Japan followed by four consecutive Canadian gold.
The U.S. edged Canada in a shootout for the Olympic crown four years ago in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
A missed open net by the U.S., a late goal and the overtime winner by Canadian captain Marie-Philip Poulin made for an electric championship game in Sochi, Russia, in 2014.
Beyond the Olympic arena, Canada and the U.S. have met for gold in all but one world championship final.
The Americans won eight of nine world titles before the host Canadians prevailed in overtime last summer in Calgary.
Their history is long and heated, but previous happiness and heartbreak matters not on Thursday.
“I think we know that history, but we’re going to give ourselves a blank slate,” Canadian forward Brianne Jenner said. “We look at it as an opportunity to go out there and claim a gold rather than looking at the history books and what has happened.”
Canada’s team in 2022 is the most prolific of all Olympic editions.
Canada has outpaced the opposition 54-8 for a tournament record in goals scored compared with the U.S. at 28-8.
The Americans have put more shots on net with 334 to Canada’s 257.
The latter’s been the more efficient scorer, however, with a shooting percentage of 17.36 outstripping the 8.38 of the U.S.
“We’re at a point right now where we’re going to play offensively,” Canadian head coach Troy Ryan said.
“Hopefully it’s enough. I think we do a pretty good job defensively. We’re not going to change our game right now.”
Canada doubled the U.S. 4-2 in the preliminary round to top Pool A, so the Americans are aware of what their rival is bringing to the table.
“We have to play a complete game in every zone, slow down the transition, pick up on the backcheck and have our head on a swivel, have awareness,” U.S. captain Kendall Coyne Schofield said.
The U.S. is without top-six forward Brianna Decker, who suffered a tournament-ending knee injury in the first game of the tournament.
Canada has forward Melodie Daoust back in the lineup. Canada’s top scorer in last summer’s world championship sat out four games in Beijing with an upper-body injury before returning for a 10-3 semi-final win over the Swiss.
Big games often come down to goaltending.
Ann-Renee Desbiens was a 51-save standout in the preliminary-round win over the U.S., but the Canadian wasn’t as sharp, giving up three goals on 13 shots to the Swiss in the semi-final.
The U.S. has played all three goaltenders in Beijing, and is using the question of its gold-medal starter to its competitive advantage.
“We’ve got three great options. They’re all Olympic goaltenders. All three are available,” U.S. head coach Joel Johnson said.
Nicole Hensley, who played in the world championship final in Calgary, has started just once in Beijing, against Russia.
Alex Cavallini was in net for three games, including quarter-final and semi-final wins.
Maddie Rooney had 23 saves in the loss to Canada in her second start of the preliminary round.
Her country’s heroine in the shootout win for gold four years ago, Rooney didn’t play in the 2021 world championship in Calgary because of injury.
Goaltending and answering Canada’s firepower will be the keys to gold, Johnson said.
“I don’t think we played our best game yet,” he said. “When we played them the last time I thought we were pretty good, but we didn’t generate enough great opportunities to score.
“I’m looking forward to playing them again and playing a similar game, but making a few adjustments and I’m sure they’re going to do the same.”
A hair-raising one-goal game, overtime or shootout is the norm when Canada and the U.S. square off for women’s hockey supremacy.
“We’re ready,” Poulin said.
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