In women's Olympic ice hockey, the US-Canada rivalry is mean and deep

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Marco Werman: I'm Marco Werman and this is The World, a co-production of the BBC World Service, PRI and WGBH Boston. Picture, for a moment, Godzilla battling King Kong. Anybody else doesn't stand a chance. That's actually a good metaphor for women's ice hockey at the Olympics. The big beasts are Canada and the US and there's bad blood between them. Today in Sochi, the Canadian women beat the US 3-2. It was just a preliminary match, both teams remain alive in the battle for gold and silver. Bruce Dowbiggin is a long time Canadian hockey analyst and author. He tells me that this epic North American hockey rivalry goes way back. Bruce Dowbiggin: The thing was in the early days, the only team to play really was the other one. That was the only opposition there was - the Canadians only really had the Americans as serious competition. In fact, they grew up playing against each other. A lot of the Canadians would go to schools in the United States on scholarships. They know each other quite well. There's rivalries that go back a long time. On one level, the Americans and Canadians have a fantastic rivalry, they've been very successful. The problem has been getting other countries to get up to that standard. Werman: Do the Russian women even come close to ranking? Dowbiggin: Not really. With a lot of countries in the world - I don't think it's news to anyone - the opportunities for women to play in these kinds of sports are fairly limited. To have the equal opportunity that women do in North America is pretty rare. The only other country anyone talks about that maybe can compete are the Fins and they played the Canadians the other day. I think they were outshot something like 55 to 14, so the game's not particularly close. Werman: I gather the Canadian women have a star on their team, a women named Hayley Wickenheiser. Who is she and is she their secret weapon? Dowbiggin: I would say that if there's a Babe Ruth of women's hockey it would be Hayley Wickenheiser. She's in her 4th Olympics as a hockey player. She's previously won 4 gold medals, but she also won a gold medal when they had women's softball in the Olympics, so she's just a great all around athlete. She has been the poster woman for the sport. She's been the one that they've pointed to. She would be the person, I would say, is the Babe Ruth of the sport. Werman: At the Vancouver Games, the last Olympics, the Canadian team beat the US team for Gold. How bad are the US women still smarting over that loss? Dowbiggin: They've taken every opportunity since those Olympics to whip up on the Canadians when they can. Coming into this particular Olympics, I think the Americans have won 4 or 5 straight games and it's always on the blackboard when they go in. "Remember what happened in Vancouver in 2010?" So they are very determined. Today was a very bitter defeat for the Americans, I think they really wanted to show that they had completely come back from the 2010 loss. Werman: There's still the medal match. I've heard people call these games between the US and Canada at the Olympics the Stanley Cup of women's hockey. Dowbiggin: Absolutely. It's the world championship, the Stanley Cup - it's everything rolled into one. These young women dedicate their lives to the sport. They don't have what you would have in the NBA, NFL or the NHL with playoffs where you're on the television all of the time. For the 4 years in between the Olympics, people don't pay that much attention to them. This is everything rolled into one for them. This is like a game 7 of the World Series every time they play for them because it has that kind of magnitude. Werman: What will it do to team USA if they don't get what they came for? Dowbiggin: You would presume, this being sport, that you double down and you say, "Okay, there's obviously there's something we're missing. We've got to do something better." I think the bigger question will be how long the International Olympic Committee will continue to have hockey in the Olympics and allow these women to perform like this, the Canadians and the Americans, if the other competition doesn't come up to scratch because they do evaluate sports over time to see whether they're making progress. It's pretty clear that hockey hasn't made the progress that they wanted for it. We would hope that they provide a really good game and that it's the kind of thing that keeps the IOC from questioning whether ice hockey for women should still be in the Olympics. Werman: So ice hockey for women, but not ice hockey altogether? Dowbiggin: No. Ice hockey has been there since the 1920's and there's an analogy here. In the 1920's, the Canadian team used to beat people 20 to 0 and the games were lopsided then. The supporters of women hockey pointed at that and said, "Well look, that's our sport. We just need a little bit more time." Werman: Hockey analyst and author Bruce Dowbiggin, thanks very much for your time. Dowbiggin: Any time.