Possibly the biggest expectation in the entire Winter Games is that the United States and Canada will reach the semifinals, and win. If the neighboring nations were to meet in the final, Canada likely would win. The two countries dominate the sport without respite, and between them have won every major international title.
But what frequently goes unnoticed, particularly below the Canadian border, is that Canada has dominated the United States nearly as thoroughly as they have trounced the rest of the world. And this isn't a reference to the U.S. team's 2-6 record against the Canadians during the Olympic run-up weeks. Of the nine world championships contested in the sport, the U.S. women have won just one -- last year, by a 1-0 margin in a shootout in Linkoping, Sweden. The countries have split the two Olympics in which women's hockey has been contested, but the Canadians prevailed in 2002 in Salt Lake. The United States tends to win the more mundane contests, and the Americans are 28-40-1 overall against Canada.
There is no team more oddly positioned than the U.S. women. They are either overriding favorites or slight underdogs, depending on whether Canada is involved. This year brought major changes to the roster. Cammi Granato, a living legend in the sport who was being prominently featured by NBC in its Olympic lead-up, was cut from the team last summer, as was Olympic veteran Shelley Looney. This year's 20-member team is strong but relatively inexperienced. Defenseman Angela Ruggiero, who played on a professional men's team with her brother last year, is one of four Americans who have played in both Olympics, with nine having played in Salt Lake. Canada, of course, outdoes the United States in Olympic veterans. The nation's squad includes 13 graduates of Salt Lake, and seven who played in the 1998 Games in Nagano, Japan.