U.S. women building toward Olympics

ADAM WAZNY -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 9:19 AM ET

Since the U.S. snatched the world championship from the Canadian women's hockey team, victories against the Maple Leaf have been rare.

No, seriously.

You can barely call it a rivalry anymore.

Consider this: following a U.S. 1-0 shoot-out victory last April in the worlds, the United States and Canada have played 10 times. The Americans have two victories -- one coming in shootout (Nov. 27) and the other coming yesterday afternoon.

Hey, is there any champagne left over from New Year's?

"The win was nice but more importantly, we played well and we got better as the game went on," U.S. captain Krissy Wendell said, somewhat mellow after scoring twice in a 5-3 clutch and grab-fest win over Canada at MTS Centre. "In key situations we're poised with the puck and that means more now in January than winning the game."

Since naming its Olympic roster last week, the Americans are now in final-push mode as the Turin games creep up. Head coach Ben Smith admits his club is still a work in progress, but if the last two games (Canada beat the U.S. 4-2 Friday night in St. Paul) are any indication, he likes what he sees.

'DOING IT ON THE ICE'

"We're starting to get to that point where we are showing some signs of being cohesive and understanding each other's roles ... not only understanding it but then doing it on the ice," Smith said. "We're moving forward, but it's a day-to-day thing.

"Some days you get a case of the slows and other days you're feeling pretty good."

Turin will be a new chapter in U.S. women's hockey.

While 17 members of the 20-woman roster were on the club that won the worlds, nine skaters and both goaltenders will be making their Olympic debuts next month.

Throw in U.S. women's hockey icon Cammi Granato's absence (Smith axed her from the squad in August), and that's a whole lot of new faces trying to supplant the Canadian juggernaut's gold aspirations.

"It is what it is," said Wendell. "We've been working hard for three months to get the momentum and start dictating the play.

"I think we have the talent, I think we're starting to come together but at the same time, there's a lot of room for improvement and we're still working to make sure we're the best come February."

Next up for the Americans will be a few exhibition matches against some high school boys teams in Warroad, Minn.

And though the tune-up games are important for development, the final scores mean nothing -- which is exactly why Smith didn't put a lot of stock in yesterday's outcome or the Canada-U.S. series as a whole.

"That's all it will be is a memory," he told the media afterwards. "I think it's just another game in the books.

"I've been there, done that, got a T-shirt on the series part of it ... I didn't see any podiums out there, so let's just stay calm."


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