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As Four Nations Cup opens, Team USA wants Canada

By Roger Mooney, Times Staff Writer
LOREN ELLIOTT | Times United States forward Annie Pankowski (27) slaps the puck away from the boards as Finland's Sara Sakkinen (26) defends during the first period of a Four Nations Cup hockey game between the U.S. Womenâ\u0088\u009A\u0095s National Team and Finland at Florida Hospital Center Ice in Wesley Chapel, Fla., on Tuesday, Nov. 7, 2017.

WESLEY CHAPEL — Two words can sum up the attitude of USA’s women’s hockey team as it prepares for the upcoming Winter Olympics: Unfinished business.

"No question," team captain Meghan Duggan said. "That’s the big storyline in between (Olympic) games. That last Olympics ended in heartbreaking fashion for us."

That last Olympics, in case you forgot, ended with Canada erasing a 2-0 deficit in the final four minutes during the gold medal game and winning 3-2 in overtime. USA missed an empty-netter by inches in the final minute that would have clinched its first gold since 1998, the first year women’s hockey was included in the Olympics.

Team USA hasn’t forgotten.

"It was not the goal we set out to achieve," Duggan said.

The two rivals — the No. 1 and 1A teams in the world — meet at 7 tonight at Florida Hospital Center Ice during the second day of the Four Nations Cup, the final tournament before the Olympics. Both teams easily won Tuesday; USA 8-2 against Finland, and Canada 9-0 vs. Sweden.

They will likely meet Sunday afternoon at Amalie Arena in the championship game.

They are expected to play for the gold medal in February at the Winter Games, held in PyeongChang, South Korea.

USA vs. Canada. Again.

"Notoriously," Duggan said, "that’s what it’s been."

Canada has won gold at the last four Olympics, beating the USA in the finale three times, including 2010 and 2014.

USA turns the table during the Women’s World Championships, winning the last four and eight of the last 10.

Why?

"I get that question often, and I don’t have an answer," Team Canada captain and center Marie-Philip Poulin said.

Poulin is considered the Sidney Crosby of Canadian women’s hockey. She scored the tying goal with 55 seconds left in regulation then scored the winner in overtime.

"If I wanted to write a story I don’t think it could be any better," she said. "It was such an amazing game."

It was Crosby in 2010 who scored the overtime goal to beat USA in the gold medal game during the Vancouver Olympics. Poulin led her country to gold that year by scoring both goals in a 2-0 win against the USA in the gold medal game.

It is an intense rivalry, one USA Amanda Kessel said she wished could be played every week.

"Wouldn’t you want to face the best?" Team Canada right wind Jennifer Wakefield asked. "In any sport, when it’s two big dogs going at it, you’re pumped. It’s so much fun."

Especially when there is a gold medal on the line. And when you were four minutes away from earning gold and you don’t? Well, unfinished business.

"You look yourself in the mirror and you ask, ‘Why? Why did that happen?’?" Duggan said. "As a leader, myself, I think what do we have to do to be better? What do I have to do to be better? We ask those questions. We’ve been asking those questions for the last three-and-a-half years, kind of moving forward and gaining confidence and getting our team culture right where we want it. We’ve been using that as ‘unfinished business’ and motivation and energy going into the next game."

USA rolls

Emily Pfalzer had a hat trick as Team USA beat Finland 8-2 in the nightcap of Tuesday’s doubleheader.

Hillary Knight opened the scoring at 3:52 of the first and Amanda Kessel scored six minutes later before Pfalzer scored the first two of her three goals. A goal by Cayla Barnes ended the five-goal, opening period barrage.

Canada rolls, too

RW Jennifer Wakeland scored two of her three goals during the second period as Canada scored five times to pull away for a 9-0 victory against Sweden.

RW Meghan Agosta scored twice and Poulin, LW Rebecca Johnson, LW Sarah Nurse and C Sarah Potomak each had a goal. D Bridgette Lacquette had four assists. Poulin had three assists for a four-point game.

Tough travels

Team Sweden didn’t arrive until midnight Monday because of a snowstorm in Iceland that delayed the layover and added an extra day to its travel.

Sweden was outshot 13-0 in the first period and didn’t get a shot on goal until 16:08 of the second. It finished with nine. Sweden G Lovisa Berndtsson stopped 32 of 41 shots.

"Considering Sweden’s travel scheduled I think they did a really good job sticking with us," Wakefield said. "Then jet lag set in."

Sweden plays Finland at 3:30 today.