VANCOUVER – Canada’s national women’s team defeated the Americans six straight times in exhibition play leading up to the 2010 Olympics. But that’s not the most compelling historical reason to believe Canada will win gold in Vancouver.
After all, the Americans beat Canada eight straight times prior to the 2002 Olympics, but lost 3-2 when it mattered most: in the gold medal game.
So what else, historically speaking, might give Canada an advantage in the Olympic rivalry between the two North American superpowers?
You have to look at the bigger picture to glean how history might play a role during the upcoming women's games at the UBC Thunderbird Arena and Canada Hockey Place.
The Canadians have captured two golds to the USA’s one since women's hockey was adopted as an Olympic sport in 1998. Yes, the Americans have won the last two IIHF World Women's Championships, but Canada has always triumphed in world championships played on home ice (1990, 1997, 2000, 2004, 2007). Even in 2002, when Salt Lake City, USA, hosted the Olympics, Canada prevailed in the gold medal game. (In Olympic years, no World Women’s Championship is played.)
And hockey’s a team sport, but some players are true difference-makers. Calling Hayley Wickenheiser the “Alexander Ovechkin of women’s hockey” isn't too much of a stretch. Like Ovechkin, the power forward from Shaunavon, Saskatchewan, has won back-to-back MVP awards – in her case, in Olympic women’s hockey (2002, 2006). The Canadian captain is the all-time leading scorer in IIHF women’s competition, and there’s still no fiercer competitor among female players.
If experience at the Games counts, Canada can claim an edge there as well. Four Canadian women (Wickenheiser, Jennifer Botterill, Jayna Hefford, and Becky Kellar) will be appearing in their fourth straight Olympics, while only two Americans (Jenny Potter and Angela Ruggiero) can make that claim.
The Canadian women have genetic history on their side too.
Wickenheiser is a cousin of the late former NHLer Doug Wickenheiser, who was selected #1 overall by the Montreal Canadiens in the 1980 draft, and played 11 NHL seasons. Forward Gillian Apps is the granddaughter of Syl Apps Sr., the former Toronto Maple Leaf captain who won the 1937 Calder Trophy and the Hart Trophy and Stanley Cup in 1942. Her father, Syl Apps Jr., also played 10 NHL seasons.
Meaghen Mikkelson undoubtedly learned a trick or two about playing defence from her father Bill, who patrolled NHL bluelines for three clubs in the 1970s, and her brother Brendan, who suited up nearly 60 times with the Anaheim Ducks and is currently in Toronto’s system.
As for Botterill, the veteran forward is the sister of Jason Botterill, who won three straight IIHF World Junior Championships (1994, 1995, 1996) as a player, and now serves as the assistant GM of the Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins.
Of course, none of these historical factors alone will suffice to give Canada 2010 gold. It’ll be the effort and teamwork of the players in critical situations that make the difference, along with the ability to manage the waves of emotion that will come from fervent crowd support.
It makes you wonder: will the Americans tap into a piece of living national team history while they’re in Vancouver? We’re talking about former national team captain Cammi Granato, and they could do a better job of using her than they did in Turin. (Then-coach Ben Smith cut her before the Games and wound up settling for bronze.) Granato, married to ex-NHLer Ray Ferraro, has lived in the 2010 Olympic host city for the last seven years. For Team USA, any inside tips on Vancouver or getting the right mindset to win gold à la 1998 would undoubtedly be beneficial.