If you’re wondering why the American and Canadian national women’s hockey teams would want to play a five-game “USA-Canada Rivalry Series” during a non-Olympic season, and why fans in five different cities would want to watch … well, you haven’t been paying attention to what has become one of the more intense rivalries in international sports.
A little background: Ever since women’s hockey became an Olympic sport in 1998, either the U.S. or Canada has won every gold medal. The Americans are the reigning gold medalists, having beaten the Canadians at the 2018 Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea, thanks largely to one of the most wicked shootout moves you’ll ever see.
Before that, though, Canada won four straight golds, the last one in heartbreaking fashion for Team USA, who seemed to have the 2014 gold-medal game in Sochi, Russia, sewed up until the final minutes of regulation.
The Rivalry Series, of course, is an opportunity for the sport to gain a wider audience, and to give fans of the two national teams a chance to see them live. This was the second straight year that the series has been held, and this time around it grew from three games to five.
After games in Hartford, Conn.; Moncton, New Brunswick,; Victoria, B.C.; and Vancouver, the final game of this year’s USA-Canada Rivalry Series was held at Honda Center in Anaheim, home of the Anaheim Ducks. That’s right in my backyard, and not only did I want to see the game for myself, I and Mrs. Fan saw it as a chance to give our daughter Little Fan early exposure to the high level of women’s athletics. The experience certainly didn’t disappoint.
Waving our flags for Team USA
I had access to a presale as a longtime participant in the Ducks’ annual recreational hockey tournament, held every Presidents Day weekend (check it out if you play the game yourself!), so I bought seats just behind the penalty boxes for $25 each. Normally I don’t like sitting that close to the ice — I prefer to be able to see as much of the ice as I can without craning my neck — but for this price, why not make an exception?
This event didn’t fill the 17,000-seat Honda Center, but it did attract an announced crowd of 13,320, most ever for a women’s national game played in the United States. And it was a boisterous one, from moms and their daughters all decked out in the red, white and blue to hockey fans of all types wearing all types of jerseys, and a fair amount of Canadians sporting the red maple leaf.
Between Mrs. Fan and I, we knew a handful of friends at the game and took time to meet up with a few of them — mostly fellow beer-league hockey players both male and female.
They handed out American flags at the door, and Little Fan had a great time waving hers around, though we had to tell her more than a couple times to not do so when play was in progress. While she was more interested in the spectacle of it all, it wasn’t overdone — after all, this was an exhibition. Once the game began, it was all about the play on the ice.
A frantic and fun finish
The USA-Canada Rivalry Series was already tilted in favor of the Americans, with three victories in the first four games, but you wouldn’t have known that by the way they played on this night. Team USA trailed 3-2 entering the third period but pushed furiously for the tying goal before cashing in with nine minutes remaining.
Then, after a Canadian penalty in the game’s final minute, the U.S. nearly seized the victory in regulation. Only a fantastic save by Canada’s goalie, Genevieve Lacasse, preserved the tie and forced overtime.
Lacasse was great again in the short OT period but couldn’t stop a second-chance opportunity by Megan Bozek, whose winner gave the U.S. victory No. 4 in the series.
Meeting up with a few of our friends at a local diner after the game, we couldn’t help but talk a little bit about Lacasse’s effort in a losing cause. Me being a goalie, her standout performance was pretty near and dear to my heart.
Ultimately, though, we were pretty impressed with the play of both teams. I don’t think any of us would mind if the gold-medal game in the 2022 Winter Olympics is a matchup of these two teams once again. Given their dominance, it’s a relatively safe bet — as is the thought that we’ll all be glued to our TVs if it happens.