The U.S. Women’s National Team is the defending world champion, but the U.S. players are still bitter about a loss to Canada one year earlier, on home ice, in the gold-medal game of the 2012 IIHF World Championships in Burlington, Vt.
The two teams will return to the scene of that 5-4 Canada overtime victory at 7 p.m. on Saturday night. The game will be the first of six games between the two rivals as part of the pre-Olympic “Bring on the World Tour.”
“So this is kind of revenge from two [world championships] ago,” defenseman Kacey Bellamy said. “We won the last time [we played], but still it’s kind of [defending] our home turf.
“We’re in the U.S. We want to play well for our fans. We want to come out on top, and last time we were there those fans saw a loss. We want to give those fans a W for the U.S. advantage.”
And after a month of nonstop training in Bedford, Mass., Team USA players are also excited to play a real game.
“It’s always awesome to begin the season; it definitely marks the first of many games against Canada we’re playing,” veteran defenseman Gigi Marvin said. “We’re very excited to play. We put in the work and everything, and we’re excited for the days to come for sure.
“Any time we get to play our biggest rival it’s just an awesome, exciting and great environment, especially going out to Burlington; we love the fans in Vermont.”
Despite the loss to Canada in Burlington last time around, the U.S. players fell in love with the city and the atmosphere that the 26,205 at Gutterson and Cairns Arena created over the course of the 2012 World Championships.
That’s why Reagan Carey, USA Hockey’s director of women’s hockey, sees this weekend’s trip as an opportunity to grow women’s hockey in the area even more.
“There are so few opportunities for these teams to play each other, any time we have the opportunity it’s a tribute to the sport and also an opportunity for the young girls in the stands to see what caliber of hockey is played at the international level,” said Carey, who is serving as the general manager for the 2014 U.S. Olympic Women’s Ice Hockey Team. “[The players] are part of something bigger than themselves and are dedicated to the responsibility of helping grow the sport.
“We’re staying in Burlington to do community events on the ice and at schools and we’ll do hospital visits. Our team is terrific, and they know what an opportunity it is to have this platform when it comes to this game and using it as leverage to grow the sport.”
Still, the game itself is not such a hard sell when you consider the fact that every Olympic and World Championships gold and silver medal has been won by the U.S. and Canada save for the 2006 Olympic silver won by Sweden.
Canada beat the U.S. for gold at the 2010 Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver, and the teams are favorites to meet in the gold-medal game again at the Sochi Olympic Winter Games this February.
The U.S. beat Canada last time out, 3-2, for the gold at the 2013 World Championships in April in Ottawa.
At the previous year's World Championships in Burlington, Canada beat the U.S. in the gold-medal game after Canada’s worst loss in program history, 9-2, came at the hands of the American's early in the tournament.
“Playing a game against the highest level competition, that’s what Canada brings every time they step on the ice and we’re excited just to compete,” Marvin said.
But with more than 100 days left to the Winter Games, Carey said this weekend’s game is more of a barometer to help the coaches cut the roster down from 25 to 21 players in December, determine which players play well together and to see which systems work best against Canada.
“Our goal is really to use these games to prepare and strengthen and see what areas we need to improve,” Carey said, before adding, “At end of day we always want to win the games, but knowing our ultimate goal is to win gold in Sochi in 2014 we put more emphasis on things we do, checks balances and accountability is really our focus.
"And we firmly believe everything else will take care of itself if we stick to the details.”
The players, however, will be playing for keeps this weekend and doing everything they can to give the Burlington faithful a victory.
“As competitors we’re competing to win every single time on the ice,” Marvin said. “It doesn’t matter if it’s February or October we want to play to win.
“That’s the attitude we take every single day.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.