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Four Nations Cup: U.S. women's hockey team keeps focus on its game, not Canada, for final

TAMPA — The United States versus Canada again.

Naturally.

The top two women's hockey teams in the world meet Sunday at Amalie Arena in the championship game of the Four Nations Cup.

"We know who they are. They know who we are," U.S. coach Robb Stauber said. "It's very likely going to be a real good hockey game."

Sweden and Finland play at noon for third place.

The United States has won the past two Four Nations Cup titles, beating Canada both times in the championship game. It has won the event six times in all and finished runnerup to Canada nine times. The teams have met in the final 15 out of the 16 times the tournament has involved these four countries.

Hear from @bdecker14 & @meganebozek before tomorrow's #4NationsCup title game at @AmalieArena.

Event & ticket info: https://t.co/Dmi4Rgu5u3 pic.twitter.com/8CNzKe5Dqk

The United States beat Canada 4-2 on Wednesday in a penalty-filled round-robin game that made it tough on both teams to find any kind of offensive flow.

"Regardless of who we play, we focus on ourselves," U.S. captain Meghan Duggan said, down playing the rivalry involved in Sunday's game. "We've done that the last three games. Stay with our strengths, even with the ebbs and flows in the game, we did a great job of monitoring that. We'll see how it shakes out (Sunday)."

Canada had a pair of shutouts around Wednesday's loss. It did so without Shannon Szabados, who backstopped Canada to gold medals in the past two Olympics. With 28 players on the roster, coach Laura Schuler juggled her lineup through the first three Cup games in an effort to determine which 23 will head to Pyeongchang, South Korea, in February for the Games.

This is the last international tournament before the Olympics, so both teams see it as a benchmark for where they stand.

RELATED: U.S. women top Canada in round-robin play at Four Nations Cup.

"I'm just happy with the way we're playing," Duggan said. "I think all the games have been different. A lot of special teams. We've done a great job of managing our energy, managing our intensity, the way that we want to play, sticking to dictating the game on our end."

The United States relies on puck possession with a heavy dose of speed. The Canadians play a more grinding, north-to-south game.

"We know that when we stick to our game, we're really something special," Canadian forward Laura Stacey said. "I think if we can stick to it and play our game, be physical, take it to them and not sit back, we're going to be in great shape."

The United States beat Finland, Canada and Sweden to go undefeated in round-robin play by playing a different style in each game. It used its speed to dominate Finland, physicality against Canada and a puck-control offense in a 5-0 win against Sweden that would have been more lopsided if not for the play of Swedish goalie Sara Grahn, who made 39 saves.

"Every night's not going to go the same night," U.S. forward Kendall Coyne said. "You have to find away and go with the bounces of that night. I think that's what makes a hockey team a good hockey team."

RELATED: U.S. shuts out Sweden, advances to title game at Four Nations Cup.

Players from both teams said the tournament is a benchmark for the Olympics. But, Coyne said after scoring twice against Sweden on Friday, there is plenty of time before they leave for Pyeongchang.

"The ultimate goal is always in the back of your mind," she said. "But obviously, it's a process, and we're sticking to it. It's going to take some time until we get there."

NOTES: Coyne and defenseman Emily Pfalzer lead the United States in scoring with three goals and five points each. Defenseman Megan Keller and forward Brianna Decker each has a team-high three assists. … The United States, which seeks a balanced attack, got goals from 11 players, including three defensemen, in the first three games. … Canada is led by forward Marie-Philip Poulin, who has five assists and seven points, and forward Jennifer Wakefield, who has four goals and five points.

Sunday

Four Nations Cup, Amalie Arena

Noon: Finland vs. Sweden, third-place game

3:30 p.m.: United States vs. Canada, championship game

Tickets: $25-$35, tickemaster.com, Amalie Arena box office

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