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The cross-border rivalry between Canada and the US in women's hockey is heating up

The cross-border rivalry between Canada and the US in women's hockey is heating up


JOHN WAWROW Associated Press

UTICA, N.Y. Even with the sting of disappointment on her face, U.S. defenseman Caroline Harvey couldn't help but recognize that she was part of something special. And compelling.

“I was on the edge of my seat myself, excited for what was to come,” the 21-year-old said, describing the relentless intensity on display in a 6-5 overtime loss to Canada in the Women's Hockey World Cup . gold medal match on Sunday. “The ending was devastating. But I was excited to be there and be a part of it.”

As nerve-wracking as it was for Canadian coach Troy Ryan to deal with the momentum swings of a performance with three lead changes and neither team leading by more than a single goal, he did enjoy a brief moment of clarity at one point by saying to himself, “I'd like to be a fan sitting there with a beer watching this movie.”

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In a 10-team tournament where several countries, Finland, the Czech Republic and even young Germany showed signs of closing the gap on the sport's two traditional powers, leave it to the US and Canada to raise the bar even higher lay.

The thrilling final, decided by Danielle Serdachny's powerplay goal (5:16 into extra time), came six days after the two rivals engaged in a quick and physical 1-0 extra time victory, sealed by Kirsten Simms , one of four Americans to make their tournament. debuts.

In the grand scheme of things, the breathtaking outings were yet another reminder of why the USA vs. Canada is the fiercest rivalry in the world in women's hockey, and showcased a sport that is suddenly gaining popularity in North America with this year's launch of the Professional Women's Hockey League.

And make no mistake, the PWHL was a major topic of conversation on and off the ice throughout the twelve-day tournament. And it included league officials spending much of Saturday morning outlining plans with International Ice Hockey Federation officials that have the potential to change the women's hockey calendar and have an even greater impact on the sport's international growth.

Discussions revolved around shifting the timing of the world championships from April so as not to disrupt the PWHL season, which resumes Thursday, with each of the league's six teams still having five games remaining.

Another topic was for the PWHL to partner with European leagues in Sweden and Switzerland to become potential development partners. With the PWHL not considering expansion until after the 2024-2025 season at the earliest, a feeder system becomes necessary to develop talent and provide women with a place to play after their college careers.

PWHL roster spots are already at a premium ahead of the June draft, which will feature a new crop of college prospects and as many as 100 European players are expected to declare eligibility for selection.

While the PWHL is primarily made up of U.S. and Canadian national team players, it is eager to attract international talent if it wants to consider itself the best women's league in the world. Many European federations already rely on their players to develop at American universities, and view the PWHL as a natural extension.

“To see the popularity and fan base, I think it's phenomenal,” Swiss coach Colin Müller told The Associated Press. “But I don't know if we don't need more teams. I think we have enough good hockey players for at least eight teams. And I think for me they have to grow a little faster.”

The PWHL is taking a more cautious approach so as not to grow too quickly, while recognizing that there are still numerous issues to be resolved as it enters its second season. Among them are finding appropriately sized venues and capturing the New York City market after failing to generate interest playing out of Bridgeport, Connecticut.

What everyone can agree on is that the best way to bridge the competitive gap in women's hockey is to give non-North American players more opportunities to play with or against Americans and Canadians.

“We never play against those teams. We always meet them here. So it's difficult to get to their level,” Czech goalkeeper Klara Peslarova said before bursting into laughter. “Maybe they're afraid to meet us.”

As a stopgap measure, the IIHF has had discussions with USA Hockey and Hockey Canada to at least allow their Under-22 teams to participate more regularly in European tournaments.

It remains to be seen how wide the gap remains, especially after the show the US and Canada put on on Sunday.

“I think this is a great example of what a great sport women's hockey is. And I think it's a glimpse of where it could be in the future,” U.S. coach John Wroblewski said. “I think the level of execution can continue to increase and the puck will move at a speed similar to the men's.”




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