GANGNEUNG, South Korea (AP) — To three-time Olympian Hilary Knight, the thought of finally hoisting the gold medal means giving women’s hockey a big boost in the United States.
“The U.S. wants to be No. 1 in everything, and I think we’ve all been raised as awesome competitors so at the end of the day we want a victory,” Knight said. “We want to win, and that would be winning a gold medal.”
That’s the only shade of medal that has eluded the Americans since 1998, the last time they won it all in Nagano when women’s hockey made its Olympic debut. They took home a disappointing bronze from Turin in 2006 and silver from the past two finals — no loss more crushing than in 2014 in Sochi when Canada rallied from an 0-2 deficit to win 3-2 in overtime.
Now the Americans have their latest chance at Olympic gold against their archrival in a showdown Thursday that will include Marie-Philip Poulin, whose two goals snatched gold from U.S. hands in Sochi. She is back again as Canada’s captain.
“For me, it’s been a fairy tale for the last Olympics,” Poulin said. “But it’s in the past now. It’s a new Olympics, and we have to bring our best game and go from there.”
The game, which starts at 10:10 p.m. Central time, once again features the only two nations ever to win Olympic gold.
Nothing less than a fifth straight gold medal is expected in the country that created the sport, and the Canadians have won the past four Olympic gold-medal games. Only the United States in basketball has dominated a women’s team sport more thoroughly with its streak of six straight golds.
The Canadians haven’t lost even a single Olympic game since the 1998 Nagano final won by the United States. Their streak stands at 24 consecutive games, including a 2-1 win over the United States to cap pool play a week ago. They’ve also won five straight over the Americans, including four exhibition victories in December prepping for the Olympics.
“Maybe I’m biased, but one of the best rivalries in sports and especially in our game,” said Canadian forward Emily Clark, who played college hockey at Wisconsin. “So we obviously have a lot on the line, mostly pride. All of us are going to bring our best game.”
Yet the Americans have owned the world championships, winning the last four and eight of the last 10. That has only made the U.S. drought at the Olympics all the more noticeable and makes this game even more special.
“It’s been something I’ve been dreaming about since I was little,” said U.S. forward Dani Cameranesi. “So it means a lot, and to be here with this group of girls and to be with them all year has really been an honor.”
The 10 Americans who lost the final in Sochi have left that game in the past. No need to waste energy dwelling on such a heartbreaker when the chance at history is at hand. Cameranesi is among 13 Americans on the roster at their first Olympics, so Sochi is just a game they may have watched on TV.
“We’re in South Korea, and it’s 2018 and you want a different result,” U.S. coach Robb Stauber said . “They’ve put a lot of energy and focus into transforming things that they needed to get better at, and that’s now. You drop the puck, see what happens.”
When the Americans and Canadians play, it’s essentially a heavyweight bout even if nobody drops the gloves.
“Every single time we play them, it’s a big game,” Canada coach Laura Schuler said. “You know the crowds there, people. There’s always pressure every single time when you represent your country and you play best on best competition. I think it’s something that we’re used to.”