Preview: Women battle for hockey gold

By BOB MACKIN, QMI Agency

VANCOUVER — Should women’s hockey be an Olympic sport?

Canada and the United States will likely offer an emphatic yes Thursday night in a gold-medal showdown that will end a tournament that’s featured blowout after blowout.

“It is the Stanley Cup Final over and over again, I think it’s great,” said Canadian head coach Melody Davidson. “I think it is one of the best rivalries in sport, male or female.”

Canada outscored first-round opponents Slovakia, Switzerland and Sweden by a collective 41-2 margin. The U.S. was slightly less effective offensively and slightly better defensively when it achieved a 31-1 differential in the preliminary round over China, Russia and Finland.

The teams advanced to the final Monday when the U.S. beat Sweden 9-1 and Canada shutout Finland 5-0.

Canada is aiming to achieve an Olympic gold medal hat-trick. The U.S. was the first to win gold in women’s hockey when it debuted in 1998 at Nagano. Canada edged the host U.S. 3-2 in 2002 with the legendary lucky loonie buried beneath centre ice.

“It will be nice to return the favour,” said U.S. forward Natalie Darwitz. “(Canada) beat the home team in Salt Lake City. It was nice for them, because hockey is like a religion in Canada.”

The U.S. missed the final in Turin when it lost a shocker to Sweden, the eventual silver medallist. Since then, the U.S. squad has gained key victories over Canada, including world championships in 2008 and 2009.

“This is what we’ve waited for. This is what everyone around North America wanted to see,” said Canadian captain Hayley Wickenheiser, who scored an Olympic-record 16th career goal against Sweden. “It always comes down to one game against them. We look at it like unfinished business.”

The U.S. beat Canada twice in the Four Nations championship, including the Sept. 6 final at GM Place. Canada won seven meetings, including the 3-2 shootout on New Year’s Day in Ottawa.

Meghan Agosta of Ruthven, Ont., leads Canada with nine goals and five assists in Vancouver while Minnesota native Darwitz leads the U.S. attack with four goals and seven assists.

American coach Mark Johnson is the son of legendary U.S. coach Bob Johnson and was the leading point-getter 30 years ago in Lake Placid when the U.S. upset the heavily favoured Soviet Union in the famed Miracle on Ice.

bob.mackin@sunmedia.ca

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