THN in Sochi: USA, Canada ready for epic battle

It will be speed and panache vs. veteran experience when USA and Canada battle for the gold medal in women’s hockey Thursday night. USA will be trying to win its first gold medal since the first Olympic tournament in 1998.

SOCHI – Looking forward to the women’s gold medal game at the 2014 Sochi Olympics, Canadian veteran Hayley Wickenheiser channeled her inner Coleman Young. “What is it they say, ‘Courage is one step ahead of fear?’ “ Wickenheiser said, quoting the former mayor of Detroit.

Fear is one thing Wickenheiser almost certainly won’t have going into the gold medal game against USA Thursday night. This will be her fifth championship game at the Olympics. She has been on the winning end of things three times. And at the age of 35, she is leading a team that is loaded with veteran talent.

If there is one area where Canada has big edge over the Americans, it’s in veteran experience. Both Wickenheiser and Jayna Hefford will be going for their fourth Olympic gold medals, while no player on the American team even has one. Captain Julie Chu has two silvers and a bronze.

“We’re going for a different color this time,” Chu said. American coach Katey Stone agreed. “It’s about time (Chu won a gold medal), isn’t it?”

Chu and her teammates may very well finally reach their goal. They’re young, fast and determined and have plenty of offensive firepower, something they showed in their 6-1 win over Sweden in the tournament semifinal. Canada, by contrast, had chance after outstanding chance in its 3-1 win over Switzerland in the other semifinal, but struggled to put pucks past goalie Florence Schelling.

But anyone who has played at a high level before knows the value of experience. Wickenheiser, for example, has seen everything. She has been on the winning end against the Americans far more than the losing end and there will be little that can rattle her.

“I think you always rely on what your make-up is and for us that’s a strong veteran presence,” Dineen said. “We have people who have been there before. We’ve also got a pretty good blend. There’s some real skill and high-end talent, including that group of veteran talent. I think the scale is pretty evenly matched, but any time we have meetings, people who have walked in these shoes before can certainly help us.”

READ ALSO:  Who will build Canada’s Olympic B squad – and who makes the team?

Dineen is right about the scales being matched between these two teams. Including Canada’s 3-2 win over USA in the preliminary round, Dineen’s first as Canadian coach after taking over for Dan Church, the two teams have played eight times this season with each team winning four games. The Americans have outscored the Canadians 25-22, but Canada has won the games that have counted most so far – one in the Four Nations Tournament and the other in the preliminary round of the Olympics. And, of course their history of getting into fights has been well-documented.

“It’s going to be intense, they’re going to be at their best and we’re going to have to be our best,” said American defender Gigi Marvin. “We’re ready and we’re excited.”

“It comes down to one game and anything can happen,” said Canadian forward Meghan Agosta. “I think the better team is going to come out on top…and there’s no doubt in my mind that it’s going to be us.”

NOTES: A couple of great quotes came out of the Canada-Switzerland game. Swiss coach Rene Kammerer: “I’m very proud to be disappointed about our losing.” And Canadian coach Kevin Dineen, when asked why he was coaching women’s hockey: “Well, for one, I got fired and it opened up some real possibilities.”