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‘I don’t want to like [them] but then you end up being friends’: Club play adds a new wrinkle to USA-Canada rivalry

Mixing up Americans and Canadians has created an interesting dynamic when it comes to the women’s hockey landscape.

Shanna Martin / CWHL

When Hilary Knight joined Team USA for the 4 Nations Cup, not only did she do so for the first time as an Olympic champion, she also joined long-time linemate Brianna Decker for the first time after being her opponent.

Decker and Knight formed one of the most formidable duos in all of hockey for years on Team USA, where they won Olympic and World gold medals, played together at the University of Wisconsin, where they won the National Championship, and with the Boston Blades and Boston Pride, where they won both the Clarkson and Isobel Cup.

But in October, they faced off for the first time as opponents in a competitive game.

“Coming up to Montreal was a big decision for me,” Knight said. “I’m away from a lot of my normal friends and family. I’ve made new friends up here, but it was great to be in the same room as the girls and to be back on the ice and pick up where we left off.”

“It was funny because we joke around about the games once we face off against one another and then I think we decided it’s better to be on the same team than to play against one another,” Knight said. “It’s good to see [Calgary Inferno goaltender Alex Rigsby] on a different team and it’s really fun to play them in different roles, but then we get back, the jokes pick right back up and it’s where we were before.”

For Knight playing with Canadian players isn’t necessarily new. When with the Boston Blades she played with rivals Tara Watchorn and Geneviève Lacasse, although this time she finds herself outnumbered.

It’s a dynamic that we’re seeing more now. Before, the players were split between the NWHL, where the Americans played, and the CWHL, where the Canadians stayed. But Knight came to the CWHL alongside Megan Bozek, Kelli Stack, and Alex Carpenter last season, and they were joined by Rigsby, Decker, and Kacey Bellamy.

On the other side, Shannon Szabados joined the NWHL’s Buffalo Beauts, becoming the first Canadian National Team member to join the league.

“I think it’s kind of weird going from being opponents to being teammates,” said Emerance Maschmeyer. “But you realize that even though in Canada we’re across the border, we’re a lot alike. It’s funny when you meet some of the US girls. You’re like ‘I don’t want to like you’ but then you end up being friends...” she pauses. “Away from the rink, of course. When you’re not playing each other.”

And it makes sense. If there’s anyone who understands the grind of being a National Team member for Team Canada, it’s the people doing the same grind for the United States.

“Obviously our experiences are slightly different, just being in different programs,” Maschmeyer said. “But you start to kind of talk about your experiences and you realize, yeah, we’re a lot alike.”

Hilary Knight on Maschmeyer:

“I think it just goes to show what she’s capable of. And for us, that’s scary from a US perspective. But I see how hard she works here, she’s a great goaltender, and I’m really excited to see how her career flourishes. And I hope she gets those big opportunities again.”

Emerance Maschmeyer on Knight:

“I’ve always appreciated her as a player. But I think now that we’re getting to play on the same team, I appreciate her as a person as well. And she’s someone who works extremely hard, is skilled, but also away from the rink is a great role model.”

“I have her now coming out to my goalie sessions and shooting on me. And it’s funny because people ask, ‘isn’t that bad, she’ll know where to shoot to score.’ And I’m like, ‘Well, now I’m gonna know where she’s going to shoot.’ So, you make jokes out of it. But it’s what we want. We want the best of the best to be playing together and against each other. And that way, it’ll help our game grow and it’ll be positive for all of us.”

Canadiennes host Blades as adversity continues

If you thought that things would get settled after Dany Brunet stepped down days before the team left for Calgary this weekend as the Canadiennes welcome the Worcester Blades, you’d be partially right.

Caroline Ouellette has been confirmed as head coach for the two games this weekend, but there has not been a “permanent” interim coach named as of yet. And the team that was already missing Lacasse (lower body, week-to-week) and Jill Saulnier (hand) now add Melodie Daoust (knee, 6-9 weeks) and Katia Clement-Heydra (upper-body) to the injury list.

That means that half of the Canadiennes top six is injured, and the team may have to play with only 11 forwards this weekend.

Weekend schedule

Saturday December 1, 6:30 p.m. - Place Bell community rink (CWHL Live stream)
Sunday December 2, 1:00 p.m. - Place Bell community rink