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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, February 25, 2010

Winter Olympics: U.S., Canada set for gold showdown in women's hockey

AP Sports Writer

VANCOUVER, British Columbia If you sat through all those women's hockey blowouts by the United States and Canada, here's your reward: The sport's twin Goliaths are finally playing for the gold medal.

They'll do it Thursday on MSNBC in what promises to be an intense conclusion to a tournament devoid of drama until now. The Americans and Canadians have rolled over every opponent, making this final matchup seem inevitable well before the last challengers were vanquished.

"I think it is one of the best rivalries in sport, male or female," Canada coach Melody Davidson said.

It's a great rivalry in part because there are no others in this sport. Canada and the United States have won all three gold medals in Olympic women's hockey and all 12 world championships. There might not be another event at the Vancouver Games with a bigger gap between silver and bronze.

In addition to the U.S.-Canada showdown, the always-anticipated women's figure skating free skate is Thursday. NBC plans to air it in prime time.

Figure skating is an established Olympic sport with a wide following, and perhaps women's hockey would be too if every game were like U.S.-Canada. But that's not the case. This year's tournament has been rife with tedious routs, and the president of the International Ice Hockey Federation had to reassure fans the sport would still be around in four years for the Sochi Games. He also suggested there might be a mercy rule for games that are too one-sided.

There isn't a rule like that this year, so Canada beat Slovakia 18-0. In all, Canada has outscored its four opponents 46-2, and the U.S. has won by a combined 40-2. That dominance fueled talk women's hockey might be in danger of going the way of softball, which was voted out of the Summer Games by the International Olympic Committee in 2005 when it appeared the U.S. had little competition in the sport.

Women's ski jumpers are fighting a similar perception as they bid for inclusion in the Olympics. IOC president Jacques Rogge has said the pool of good female jumpers is too small.

Of course, any new sport can have depth problems at first. There wasn't much parity in men's hockey when Canada dominated several decades ago.

And don't forget, the U.S. didn't even make the gold medal game in women's hockey at the 2006 Games. The Americans were stunned by Sweden in the semifinals, although when they played in the same round this year, the U.S. won 9-1.

"If anyone is going to beat Canada or the U.S., they are going to have to play the best game of their lives," Sweden's Erika Holst said.

Part of the problem for teams like Sweden is that women's hockey is still growing in North America too, so it's not as if the U.S. and Canada are going to wait for other nations to catch up. And they're certainly not going to apologize for winning too easily.

"We want the games to be as close as they can be. It's not fun for us either," Canada's Meaghan Mikkelson said. "I hope fans don't look at these games and generalize women's hockey."

At least the Americans and Canadians could look forward to their matchup as the perfect showcase for their sport. You won't see it at a higher level than what is on display Thursday. The U.S. and Canada have split their last eight games against each other at world championships, with two decided by shootouts.

"It is the Stanley Cup final over and over again," Davidson said. "I think it is great."

Elsewhere on Thursday, South Korean figure skater Kim Yu-na tries to hold on to her lead in the free skate, although the most anticipated appearance might be that of Canada's Joannie Rochette, who was third in the short program with a courageous performance two days after the sudden death of her mother.

NBC also is showing aerials skiing and the Nordic combined in prime time.