One of the greatest national rivalries in Olympic history is becoming a bit one-sided.
The U.S. women’s hockey team goes into the World Championships in Malmo, Sweden, starting Saturday as the defending champion.
But it has lost four straight games to Canada and hasn’t beaten the rival to the north in an international tournament since that 2013 Worlds gold-medal game in Ottawa.
The U.S. and Canada will face off in the preliminary opener Saturday and likely again in the gold-medal game the following Saturday. All 15 previous World Championships finals have been U.S.-Canada affairs.
The U.S. roster of 23 announced Feb. 15 included 13 members of the Sochi Olympic silver medal-winning team. The biggest names are forwards Hilary Knight and captain Meghan Duggan and goalie Jessie Vetter. Though Vetter is not guaranteed to be the No. 1 goalie in Malmo.
Missing is four-time Olympian Julie Chu as well as forward Amanda Kessel, whose future is in question as she sits out this season. It was announced in September that Kessel suffered a concussion before she played at the Sochi Olympics. After Sochi, she visited a brain institute in Atlanta headed by the same doctor who worked with Sidney Crosby and two-time U.S. Olympic medalist Caitlin Cahow following their concussions.
The U.S. has a new head coach, retired 14-year NHL veteran defenseman Ken Klee, who succeeded Olympic coach Katey Stone.
Canada, too, replaced its Olympic coach, former NHL player and coach Kevin Dineen, who is now an assistant with the Chicago Blackhawks. The new man at the helm is Doug Derraugh, who also guides Cornell.
Derraugh’s roster in Malmo includes the forward who broke American hearts in the 2010 and 2014 Olympic gold-medal games. That’s Marie-Philip Poulin, who scored both goals in the 2-0 victory at Vancouver 2010 and the final minute-tying and overtime-winning goals in the 3-2 stunner in Sochi last year.
Canada is without stalwart defenseman Hayley Wickenheiser, who has played in all five Olympic women’s hockey tournaments but is sidelined by a foot injury. Missing, too, is star goalie Shannon Szabados, who is playing men’s minor-league hockey with the Columbus (Ga.) Cottonmouths.