With two brawls in six pre-Olympics clashes and a hard-fought preliminary-round contest that previewed what is expected to be a great gold medal game, the Canada-USA rivalry in women’s hockey has hit a rolling boil.
No moment demonstrates the deep-rooted disdain between these teams like the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City. The Americans, gold medallists four years earlier when women’s hockey made its Olympic debut in Nagano and winners in the previous eight matchups, were rumoured to be using the Maple Leaf as a doormat in their locker room.
In the gold-medal final, American referee Stacey Livingston called 13 penalties on Team Canada and four on Team USA. Canada held on for a 3–2 win, and tournament MVP Hayley Wickenheiser, still sweating, had this to say in her post-game interview: “The Americans had our flag on the floor in their dressing room, and now I want to know if they want us to sign it!” U.S. captain Cammi Granato vehemently denied that any flag stomping had gone on. Whatever the case, it was a spark.
Regina’s Meaghan Mikkelson is a veteran of Canada’s gold medal-winning squad from Vancouver. Before heading to Sochi she gave us a more recent example of U.S. players stoking the rivalry:
“After the World Championship in Ottawa last April, the Americans took one of the Nike banners off the rink boards that read: “Hockey is Ours.” Obviously that banner was intended for Canada, but they ripped it off the boards and took a team picture with it. That was a picture our entire team saw, and it’s in the back of our minds always.
“Going into our boot camp this past year and up until now, we’ve had some long, tough days, and training has been very intense. Our schedule’s been jam-packed, and we’ve been pushed to our limits, physically and mentally. The feeling of losing a World Championship on home soil and standing on that blueline and watching them celebrate is a feeling you never forget, and it has definitely served as fuel to the fire for our team this year. Our thought is that hockey is ours, and every game we play against the Americans, we want to take it back.”