"I think that's a good indication of where the youth is and where the competition is," said Melody Davidson, Team Canada's general manager. "The parity is phenomenal. ...There's some pretty good teams we have to get through before we play the U.S."
Canada had a 5-3 edge over the U.S in pre-Olympic exhibitions and held the U.S. to only three goals in the teams' last four games. The U.S. lost all four of those games, two by shutouts.
Coach Robb Stauber, a former Kings goaltender, used the final weeks of preparation to emphasize the need to manufacture goals, but he wouldn't specify the strategic or personnel changes he had implemented.
"Quite frankly, we believe that we can score more than we have and we've made it a very strong focus point because at the end of the day it's really a very simple game: whoever scores more goals, wins," he said. "The players understand that, and you will see a team that gets pucks to the net more than we have in the past. And if we do that, we really, really like our chances. It's really a mind-set. There's not one shot we can't be willing to take because that could be the shot that makes the difference."
Every women's Olympic tournament has featured a Canada-U.S. final except at Turin 2006, when Canada beat Sweden for the gold and the U.S. won bronze.
The sport wouldn't advance if both teams breeze through the field to reach the final again. Being challenged along the way would help the future of the game and make a third straight showdown that much sweeter.
"I think the rivalry between Canada and the U.S. has been there since the inception," said Shuler, who played for Canada in the 1998 Games. "Every single time we've faced the U.S. it's always been a one-goal difference. It's gone into OT. It's a back and forth hockey game. It's best-on-best competition. And I think that's what makes it so great."
Facing Canada again is a tantalizing prospect, but Duggan said the Americans aren't looking beyond their opener against Finland. This is when they will put into use the lessons they learned from that 2014 gold-medal game loss.
"This is a different group. This is a different team than everyone saw four years ago," she said. "We really looked ourselves in the mirror. We've all matured in our habits, matured in our mind-sets and we're ready to go. We're excited to be here. We've been focused on Feb. 11, our first game of this tournament, for the last four years."
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