Preview: U.S. women’s hockey hopes to dethrone Canada

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EVENT SCHEDULE

All games can be seen live online or on NBCSN, USA Network and MSNBC. TV listings can be found here.

Feb. 8 – USA vs. Finland – 3 a.m. ET; Canada vs. Switzerland – 8 a.m. ET

Feb. 9 – Sweden vs. Japan – 3 a.m. ET; Russia vs. Germany – 8 a.m. ET

Feb. 10 – USA vs. Switzerland – 3 a.m. ET; Finland vs. Canada – 8 a.m. ET

Feb. 11 – Germany vs. Sweden – 5 a.m. ET; Russia vs. Japan – 10 a.m. ET

Feb. 12 – Switzerland vs. Finland – 3 a.m. ET; Canada vs. USA 7:30 a.m. ET

Feb. 13 – Japan vs. Germany 3 a.m. ET; Sweden vs. Russia noon ET

Feb. 15 – Quarterfinals at 3 a.m. and 7:30 a.m. ET

Feb. 16 – Classification games at 3 a.m. and noon ET

Feb. 17 – Semifinals at 7:30 a.m. ET and noon ET

Feb. 18 – Classification games at 3 a.m. and noon ET

Feb. 20 – Bronze medal game at 7 a.m.; gold at noon ET

CHECK VS. CONTACT

One crucial difference between men’s and women’s hockey is that body checks aren’t totally permitted in women’s hockey. This table explains the differences between body checks and body contact, though it must be noted that there’s potential for gray area:

source:

In a similar vein, women are forced to wear full face masks while doing so is voluntary for men’s hockey players.

FORMAT CHANGE

The women’s tournament will be broken up into two groups, this time with the top teams in Group A:

Group A

Canada, U.S., Finland and Switzerland

Group B

Sweden, Russia, Germany and Japan

The logic behind putting the most powerful teams in Group A is to reduce the amount of blowouts, which was an unfortunate byproduct of the previous format. It also opens up the possibility for two United States – Canada games.

The top two teams from Group A after the round robin advance straight to the semifinals while the bottom two from Group A and top two from Group B begin the quarterfinals. From there, seeding is pretty standard.

For a more detailed breakdown of the format, click here.

MORE: Off the cuff with Canadian flag bearer Hayley Wickenheiser

US OUTLOOK

The Americans hope that Amanda Kessel truly his 100 percent heading into the 2014 Olympics. Phil Kessel’s sister insists that she’s good to go despite rehabbing an injury. Silver medal-winning goalie Jessie Vetter will start the first U.S. game against Finland.

It’s pretty difficult to separate the United States from Canada, as the two nations have dominated ice hockey since it was added to the Olympics in Nagano. Canada is seeking its fourth consecutive gold medal in women’s ice hockey, yet the Americans carry momentum against their neighbors with four consecutive exhibition wins.

This is a bitter rivalry with an opportunity for two confrontations in Sochi.

INTERNATIONAL OUTLOOK

Beyond Canada (who, by the way, have a bit of a captain controversy going), Finland is believed to be the greatest threat to upset the dominant North American teams, as the country’s penchant for developing impressive netminders transcends genders, at least if it Noora Raty’s potential is any indication. She’s already in her third Olympics at 24 and recently frustrated the U.S. with 58-save performance in a 3-1 win in November.

Switzerland and Sweden are likely to be the top underdogs behind the Finns.