Many of the most decorated Olympic hockey players in the world will take the ice at Crypto.com Arena on Saturday afternoon when Team USA will confront Team Canada as part of the annual Rivalry Series between the two most elite programs in women’s hockey.
Future Hockey Hall of Fame locks like Marie-Philip Poulin of Canada and Hilary Knight of the American selection will lead their countries, with the United States looking to extend its advantage in the seven-game exhibition series to 2-0 after prevailing 3-1 in Arizona on Wednesday.
Knight, 2023’s player of the year on the international level, scored a goal and assisted on Taylor Heise’s tally before Alex Carpenter provided an insurance marker. Heise could be a successor to Knight as the face of the program. She scored more goals than anyone in the NCAA over the past two seasons combined while attending Minnesota and became the first No. 1 overall pick in the inaugural Professional Women’s Hockey League draft. Goalie Aerin Frankel was resplendent with 35 saves, beaten only by Brianne Jenner’s putback goal.
“Our team really stacked together a lot of good play,” Knight said.
The captain’s “C” has been sewn onto Knight’s sweater while Kendall Coyne-Schofield has been away from the team as she cared for her and former Chargers offensive lineman Michael Schofield’s first child, son Drew, who was born over the summer.
Knight has won nine gold medals at the Worlds (tied with Canadian Danielle Goyette for the most all-time), one at the Olympics and two NCAA national championships with the University of Wisconsin. Her 13 medals overall tie for the most ever with arguably the greatest player of all time, Canadian Hayley Wickenheiser. When she was asked about her record at the Worlds, she quipped that she “just wanted to pass [Tom] Brady.” Her wit proved as stealthy as her scoring touch.
“It seems like she comes out of nowhere and scores goals,” said Canada’s Sarah Nurse to reporters in Arizona postgame. “She’s a super talented player around the net and doesn’t miss many.”
This rivalry has been defined more by that sort of mutual respect than by the blood, tears, sweat and political turmoil of the old Czechoslovakia-Russia men’s matches or the 1972 Summit Series, however there has been no equivalent in men’s hockey to the dominance of these two programs. The most recent chapter of their battle for supremacy was at April’s World Championships, where Knight picked up a hat trick for career points Nos. 99, 100 and 101 to power the Americans past Canada 6-3 in the gold-medal game.
That victory drew the U.S. nearer to Canada’s gold-medal count, making it 12-10. The nations have been either the winner or the runner-up in every World Championship except 2019, when the Americans defeated Finland in a final whose controversial ending elicited a circuitous explanation from the International Ice Hockey Federation.
Of the seven Olympic gold medals in the history of women’s hockey, all have been won by either Canada (five) or the U.S. (two), with Canada capturing gold in 2022. As in the Worlds, there has only been one Olympic runner-up from outside North America, Sweden, at the 2006 Turin Olympics where the Swedish men stood atop the medal stand.
In the Rivalry Series last year, Canada had the last laugh, and it was a bellowing one. It trailed the U.S. in the series before managing a pair of victories, including an overtime affair at Crypto.com Arena. Canada proceeded to dismantle the Americans by an aggregate score of 10-1 in the final two games in Quebec, completing the reverse sweep.
Saturday, there will be Southern California connections and some intertwining with the local NHL franchises. Defenseman Cayla Barnes hails from Eastvale and was a member of the Lady Ducks. She has excelled at the collegiate level with Boston College and, this season, Ohio State. The Americans are stewarded by John Wroblewski, who had previously coached the Kings’ top minor-league affiliate, the Ontario Reign.
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After winning gold together earlier this year, he and Knight shared a moment during which she presented him personally with the championship trophy before offering a profound embrace, which Wroblewski said “meant a lot.”
“Personally, being around Hilary has been so invigorating,” he told reporters afterward. “She’s got a presence about her. I’ll follow her anywhere.”
Rivalry Series: USA vs. Canada
When: Saturday, 1 p.m.
Where: Crypto.com Arena
How to watch: NHL Network