Round 1 of Canada-U.S. hockey done, but women know ‘war is still to be played’

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SOCHI, Russia — How to find meaning in a so-called meaningless game – that was the challenge after Canada’s 3-2 victory over the United States Wednesday at Shayba Arena.

Because here’s the thing: barring a tremendous upset in Monday’s semifinals, to which both sides have advanced, the two women’s hockey powerhouses are still expected to meet in the gold-medal game on Feb. 20.

“Ultimately it’s a battle and the war is still to be played,” said Canada’s Hayley Wickenheiser,  who finished with a goal and an assist.

And that looming war is ultimately why none of the American players, nor coach Katey Stone, put up much of a fuss over Canada’s second goal, by Wickenheiser, that seemed to cross the line after the referee’s whistle blew.

“I did hear the whistle blow before the puck went in,” said Stone.

“But what are you going to do? That’s what happens. We had a lot of time left in that game. I’m not going to hang my hat on that one.”

The final score did mean one thing for sure. Canada has now won 18 straight games in the Olympics, its last loss coming to the United States in the gold-medal final of the 1998 Nagano Games.

Canadian coach Kevin Dineen was pleased with today’s victory, but was hesitant to attach much significance to the final score, given all the ways the result could have been different.

VIDEO: Watch the controversial goals

“We won tonight,” said Dineen. “I’d love to say we could win two in a row. A lot of bounces go in there, those things happen. I’m just hoping we can keep moving forward.”

Wickenheiser echoed her coach’s message about getting, or sometimes not getting, the breaks.

“We know it’s always going to come down to one or two bounces when we face [the U.S.],” she said.

Stone, meanwhile, was “indifferent” to the performance of her side, suggesting a couple of areas for improvement.

“Our defensive support today in our own end was not what it’s typically been in the last two months, and that’s an area that we can continue to work on,” she said.

“And then we’ve got to establish our forecheck. It wasn’t until we got a little bit more comfortable in the game that we really started to play on our toes versus on our heels.”

At the end of the day, perhaps there’s no need to unearth some key underlying factor, some predictive element from today’s game. Perhaps it’s enough that it was another typical U.S.-Canada clash that left the fans entertained and looking forward to the teams’ next meeting.

“Both teams would like to play each other,” said Canadian goalie Charline Labonte. “It would be a bonus playing them – there would be a lot of emotion on the ice.”