That’s the opponent the Americans really, really want to face in Tuesday night’s world women’s hockey championship gold-medal game.
“Canada-U.S., it’s the best game you can watch in women’s hockey,” U.S. captain Krissy Wendell said after her team’s practice Monday afternoon.
“There’s not a hatred (between us). When you play on a great team, you want to go and play another great team.”
Canada is taking on Finland Monday night to determine who plays the Americans in the final.
Under the points system used at the championship, the only way Canada would be knocked out of the final is if Finland defeats them in regulation time. Canada’s all-time record against the Finns is 39-0, with one tie in 1999.
Canada and the U.S. have met in all nine world championship finals. The only American victory was 1-0 in a shootout in 2005.
It’s an experience Wendell wants to recapture.
“I always remember lining up at the blue-line and being able to watch our flag go up and actually sing, because I’d heard O Canada a few too many times,” said Wendell, a 25-year-old Minnesota native who’s playing in her sixth world championship.
“We had smiles all summer going into the evaluation camp that August.”
A sold-out crowd of 15,003 will be in the stands at MTS Centre for the gold-medal game, the same number that watched Canada defeat the U.S. 5-4 in a shootout last Saturday.
U.S. head coach Mark Johnson, who took over the job after last year’s Olympic Games, doesn’t need years of experience with the squad to understand the rivalry with Canada.
And he welcomes it.
“It seems the last 10 or 12 years, the magnitude of some of these games has certainly increased the intensity of the rivalry,” Johnson said.
“Because of the Olympic Games, because of the world championships, both on the male and female side, it’s just fun.”
The U.S. women’s squad has been revamped since it was upset by Sweden in last year’s Olympic semifinals. Canada defeated Sweden for the gold and the Americans settled for bronze with a win over Finland.
Former U.S. player Michele Amidon was hired as the team’s first-ever director of women’s hockey development and half the squad is new.
Johnson said his young players did some good things in the shootout loss to Canada and he believes they’ll be up for the challenge if the two clubs meet in the final.
“This group has become a team in a short period of time,” he said.
“They care for one another, they support one another, they encourage one another. As a coach, those are really positive signs.”
Johnson recently wrapped up his fifth season as head coach of the University of Wisconsin women’s team, guiding the Badgers this year to their second straight NCAA Division I title.
A former member of the U.S. men’s national team and an NHL player for 11 seasons, he was an assistant coach with the U.S. men’s team from 1996-2002.
Wendell, who leads her team with four goals and 11 points, said having Johnson at the helm has been a good change for the experienced and young players.
“It’s a different atmosphere,” she said. “It’s a lot lighter.
“Our coach is real laidback. It’s a fun experience and I think that rubs off on the players. We’re allowed to feel nervous and tense, but at the same time not fearful.”