One of the best hockey internet follows around is Chris Peters, who is behind the awesome United States of Hockey site. He knows all there is to know about USA hockey. I highly recommend you follow him if you don't already. He's a cool guy. Cool enough to answer a bunch of questions for us about expectations for the women's hockey tournament, specifically regarding gold-medal-favoured, and Team Canada's biggest (only) rival, Team USA. We talked just before the women's tournament actually started, so Canada and USA now each have one win under their belts.
This tournament comes down to a Canada-USA showdown a lot. A lot a lot. Would you rather see someone new in the finals this year, or is this the best rivalry there is, from your perspective?
There's no question that the women's tournament needs to be more competitive to be compelling, but I don't think it would help if the gold-medal game is anything other than USA-Canada. That is the best showcase for the women's game and I think it's the most fun. That's not to say it wouldn't be a huge story if another country made it in, but
I think USA-Canada playing for gold is good TV and it's good hockey too. I would prefer that there be more intrigue throughout the preliminary round. If USA or Canada got upset in the prelims, that would be really interesting and perhaps even an important step for the women's game. I still want to see the best on best in the gold game.
What do you think of the brawling that's been going on between these two teams as of late?
The brawls certainly brought a lot of attention, which probably doesn't hurt build storylines.I think it goes to show how competitive this rivalry is and the fact that they played each other eight times in the buildup to Sochi, tensions boil over. It's not unlike divisional games in the NHL. For my money, USA vs. Canada women is probably a top-five rivalry in all of hockey, international or pro. They're the two best, they constantly push each other to do better and there is some serious hate on both sides. The competitiveness can spill over into ugliness sometimes, but there's no question that this rivalry brings out the best in both teams, too.
Would you agree that Team USA are by far the favourites to take the gold this year and why? Are you afraid of any teams?
I think the U.S. are favorites, but I would stop short of saying by far. Canada still has talent, they have gold-medal experience, What makes this year different is the surprise coaching change. That flipped the whole thing on its head and Canada still hasn't won with Kevin Dineen [Ed note: This was before Canada beat Switzerland yesterday]. However, as they get used to him and he gets used to them, I think it's a start over point when they get to Sochi. When these two teams, if they get to the gold-medal game, I think anything you think you know about these teams gets thrown out the window. They're so evenly matched every year, it's just hard to say one is clearly better than the other. The team the U.S. and Canada should be most scared of is Finland. They have Noora Raty, who is the best female goaltender in the world, hands down. She can steal games and did at the 4 Nations in November when Finland beat the U.S.
What do you think of the "new" format of the tournament (have you watched the Worlds at all since the change and do you think it makes it more exciting)?
I love the new format. I don't know that it will do much different as Finland and Switzerland are still kind of well behind their North American counterparts and then I'm wondering if Sweden mops up the other division with ease. I still like the idea of getting the most competitive teams in one group to start and letting them compete. There was no use in Team USA's game against China in 2010 for instance. No one benefited. Now, the U.S.and Canada challenge each other and will be challenged by two good, not great, teams. It makes things a little more interesting and there's a better chance that one of the big teams gets upset.
Do you have Amanda Kessel's phone number, and can I have it?
I do not, but I know someone that does. They said you can't have it. I'm sorry.
For real though. Amanda Kessel. Is she better than her brother? And what do you think it must be like to be Blake Kessel?
Haha. Is Amanda better than Phil? You know, I think we might found out during these Olympics. Amanda absolutely shredded the women's college hockey ranks last year. Killed it. RIP. This is her first Olympics though, with the elite of the elite. She's done well at women's world championships, but this is the big time now, with attention and TV and expectations. This is going to be the biggest test of her career and I think that she's more than ready to tackle it. The same is true for Phil, really. This Olympics is a great opportunity for him to prove he is one of the world's elite offensive players. He's doing it in the NHL, now if he can put together a great couple of weeks in Sochi, he changes perception, I think. And on Blake, well... it's gotta be tough.
It seems like she's one of the few members of this team we hear about these days. She's a dominant player, but there are some other women on this team who are pretty badass. Tell us about players to watch for.
There are a lot of really special players on this U.S. women's team. Kelli Stack has been overshadowed quite a bit by Kessel. Stack was the leading scorer for the pre-Olympic tour and she's kind of coming into her own as an offensive leader on the team. She was the best forward at the 2012 Women's World Championship and has been one of the most consistent producers internationally over the last two years. Fun fact about Stack, she played youth hockey with and against Patrick Kane. Another big-time player is Hilary Knight. She's incredibly strong, plays tough and she can produce. Twin sisters Monique and Jocelyne Lamoureux are also really fun to watch. Both have good skills that they helped hone while playing pond hockey with their brothers in Grand Forks, N.D. Jessie Vetter and Molly Schaus are both excellent goalies, with Vetter likely to take the reins early. Julie Chu is the seasoned vet on the squad. She's been part of the national team program for about 15 years and is so respected. This list can go on and on. I think this might be one of the best groups they've had.
Does this team have any weaknesses, other than not being Canadian?
I don't think there are any glaring weaknesses, but the defensive group is relatively inexperienced. There are a lot of first-time Olympians back there and some youth as well. I believe Gigi Marvin and Kacey Bellamy are the only two returnees on defense, so that's going to be something to keep an eye on. They're all talented women though and there's some size on the blue line as well. You just never know how the size of the situation wears on the younger players and if they're ready for that kind of attention. We'll find out soon.
When Team Canada won in Vancouver, they took a lot of heat for celebrating later on the ice, drinking crappy beer and smoking cigars. If the US women win, how would you like to see them celebrate?
If the U.S. won, I'd like to see them celebrate however they like. Unlike the men's teams, these women centralize very early and battle together for half a season leading up to the games. Not to mention the fact that this is the pinnacle of their profession. There's no Stanley Cup, there's Olympic gold. Now, if they want to sneak in some Bald Eagles to fly around them as they skate the ice with American flags, that's probably the best idea ever.
Gold, Silver, Bronze predictions?
Gold: USA -- I just think they've reached a level in the last few months that is going to be hard to overcome for other teams. They're so fast and strong that they'll dominate some of these games.
Silver: Canada -- Because it will be one of the two North American teams.
Bronze: Finland -- Noora Raty might steal a game or two and I think the Finns have enough depth to stay in this top three.
The very talented Team USA and Team Canada will play on Wednesday, February 12th, in what is sure to be a must-watch game.
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