Wednesday, the American women’s hockey team meets its arch rival Canada on the ice in Sochi at the Winter Olympics. It’s an early round game, but when it comes to these two teams, which are expected to meet in the gold medal game, there’s no such thing as a low-stakes match.
When they meet on the ice, things get heated: A match between the two teams in late December turned into a brawl. After the “melee,” the referees handed out 10 fighting majors and other infractions.
They also got into a fight in October, and those fights turned women’s hockey into a bit of an Internet sensation. Some fights went viral, but they’re not unusual, says Brianne Jenner, a Canadian forward.
“It’s not as rare as people think,” she says. “It’s just not always caught on video.”
“That’s just kind of what happens when you’re in an intense hockey game,” she says. “You know, it was just part of a hockey game, and I think it’s good that… so many people are interested in it at least.”
These fights come up a lot — probably in every single interview these women have done since arriving in Sochi. And the athletes seem conflicted: Yes, the fights happened; no, it’s not all that common. They are neither embarrassed nor proud. But, yes, it could happen again.
Lyndsey Fry is an American forward.
“Pretty much everyone I’ve ever talked to that’s never seen a women’s game before, even in college, they’ll leave and be, like, so impressed,” Fry says. “It’s like, ‘Well, yeah, maybe you should have come out a little sooner.’
“There’s all the media coverage of the fight or whatever, and it’s like, that’s not really what women’s hockey is all about, but if it gets people watching, they’re going to fall in love with the sport.”
‘One Of The Best Rivalries In Sport’
What is it about this rivalry that makes it so intense?
Two things: They play each other all the time; and when it comes to women’s hockey, America and Canada are in a league all their own. Both teams are coming into Wednesday’s game undefeated, and those games weren’t even close.
Take the one Monday between the U.S. and Switzerland. In a matter of 55 seconds, Team USA scored three goals — an American Olympic record. Just 8 seconds elapsed between the second goal and the third; the celebratory music hadn’t even stopped playing before they scored again.
Amanda Kessel scored two of the goals.
“When you score so many quickly, it just knocks the wind out of the other team,” she says.
Kessel, whose brother plays in the NHL, spoke after the game, which ended with a score of 9-0.
“It’s tough to get back up on your feet,” she says. “You just kind of keep pounding them and keep pounding them, and I think that’s what really did it to them.”
If history is any guide, the Canada game will be a whole lot closer, and when it comes to these two teams, there’s plenty of history. They met seven times in three months late last year. Jayna Hefford, who has played for Team Canada since the 1998 Olympics in Nagano, says it is one of the best rivalries in sport because the two teams push each other to get better.
“It’s intense, and it’s the games you want to play in as an athlete,” she says. “I think, as a fan, those are the games that people love to watch, so it’s the best game to be in for sure.”
And a lot of people will be watching this time to see whether they throw off their gloves and fight again.