Smart. Sharp. Funny. Fearless.
Sunday, December 4, 2016

By Scott M. Reid, The Orange County Register

ADLER, Russia — As with many a legend, the story of the U.S.-Canada women’s hockey rivalry is clouded by time and hatred, the truth sometimes as hard to distinguish as the intent behind the head snapping hits on goaltenders that frequent a feud marked by low blows on and off the ice.

U.S. and Canada once again meet in the Olympic Games final Thursday, the latest chapter in a three-decade border war in which the teams have distinguished themselves from their game, other women’s sport and even the Winter Olympics themselves with their unparallel play and an equally unrivaled animosity.

“This is the best rivalry in Olympic sport,” said former Team Canada standout Cassie Campbell-Pascall.

Canada and the United States take the ice at the Bolshoy Ice Dome, each bringing their own versions of a shared history both brilliant and ugly, so it is that the rivalry is best perhaps captured by a moment of fiction.

For the final four days of the 2002 Olympic tournament, Campbell-Pascall carried around with her a story she knew would make her teammates’ heads spin, just waiting for the right moment to share it.

Canadian rink workers at the Olympic arena told Campbell-Pascall that Team USA had been using a Canadian flag as essentially a doormat in their dressing room during the Salt Lake City Games.

During the second and third period intermission of the gold medal final, Campbell-Pascall knew it was time to share her story. With Canada up, 3-2, but sensing the U.S. was the better team, Campbell-Pascall grabbed a Canadian flag, repeated the workers’ story “that our flag was on the floor as they walked out of their dressing room and so they would have had to step on it every time they walked out.”

As Campbell-Pascall was finishing, mission accomplished, her teammates enraged, Canada coach Daniele Sauvageau came into the room to give her own pep talk.

“And she realized that she didn’t need to say anything,” Campbell-Pascall said. “That we were pissed.”

Canada won, 5-2.

It turned out the workers had told Campbell-Pascall a story that wasn’t true. And after a Canadian player repeated the story in postgame interviews, Campbell-Pascall had to make the rounds apologizing to the USOC, USA Hockey, the IOC, the International Hockey Federation.

But that the Canadians would so readily accept the story speaks volumes about the bitterness and intensity of the rivalry.

“I think it’s the best game you can play and each team is looking for some sort of edge and I think when all is said and done behind closed doors you don’t really care if you step on one of them or if you say something bad because you’re looking for that edge,” Campbell-Pascall, now a reporter on “Hockey Night In Canada” said while nursing a hot chocolate late Wednesday afternoon.

In the years since Salt Lake City, the rivalry has become even more intense, the fire both raising the game to new heights and sometimes dropping it to new lows. Canada has won three consecutive Olympic titles. The U.S. has won five World titles since 2005.