The U.S. women’s hockey team has had plenty of success in recent years, but one achievement has eluded the club for two decades. They came close in the 2010 Winter Games, even closer during the Sochi Olympics, but the Americans have been chasing the gold medal since they won the inaugural edition of the women’s tournament in 1998.
The 20-year drought almost seems like a typo for a program that has won three consecutive world championships and eight of the past 10. Now, in its fifth gold-medal showdown against Canada, the United States will try to set the record straight (Feb. 21, 11:10 p.m. ET NBCSN | LIVE STREAM).
"You train four years for this one game,” Monique Lamoureux-Morando said. “This is what we worked for, the chance to win."
But, as the U.S. looks to flip the script, you can bet the Canadians want nothing more than a fifth successive Olympic gold medal.
"Everyone's plans are falling into place. You have two great opponents at the end,” Canadian head coach Laura Schuler explained. “It's awesome on the world's biggest stage for everybody to watch two powerhouses go at it."
Canada was certainly ready when they faced Team USA in the preliminary round, edging their adversaries 2-1 in a preview of the gold-medal match. It was yet another reminder for the Americans that no matter their success against Canada at the Worlds, the team they face on Olympic ice is a completely different animal.
It’s difficult to overstate the Canadians’ success on the biggest stage. They are in the midst of a 24-game winning streak at the Olympics, which means their last loss came in that inaugural final 20 years ago.
“Those games are in the past,” Canada forward Rebecca Johnston said. “We are both competitive teams and we both want to win that gold medal. It is probably going to be a rough game, and everyone will give it their all.”
While the competition remains fierce, the U.S. entered the tournament with 13 first-time Olympians in order to move on from the pain of 2014’s loss and wipe the slate clean. Not only was a new mentality needed, but Stauber implemented his own system to embrace the speed and skill of the roster.
“Honestly, we didn’t bring them along for an experience,” Stauber explained. “They’re players. They’re quality players. They’re high-end players, and at the end of the day, we expect everybody to be able to contribute not only offensively but defensively. We want to play a high tempo game from start to finish, and not everybody can do that.”
With a youth-injected lineup and a quest to forge a new era, USA faces the ultimate test in Canada.
“A battle for the ages, as usual,” Canadian forward Brianne Jenner said. “It's one of the best rivalries in hockey. Not much more you can say.”
The stage is set in PyeongChang.
Oliver Jung contributed to this story