SOCHI, Russia — When the USA meets Canada in women's hockey Wednesday (6:30 a.m., ET, NBC Sports Network), it means absolutely nothing and everything all at once.
Regardless of what happens, the Canadians and Americans are still expected to meet in the gold medal game on Feb. 20. But players from both teams will treat this contest like an important meeting because they hate losing to the other. Think Boston Red Sox vs. New York Yankees and you are getting the picture.
"Any game against Canada, whether you are playing in Timbuktu, with no one in the stands, or playing in front of 12,000 or 15,000 people, you get up for it," said U.S. forward Monique Lamoureux.
Women's hockey has crowned a world champion since 1990, and the USA and Canada have played in every gold medal game. The USA won the first women's Olympic tournament in 1998, and Canada has won the next three.
"We're so passionate, this is our Stanley Cup, so I think we leave our emotions on the ice," said Canadian goalie Charline Labonte.
The two teams met seven times in the pre-Olympic tour, and Canada won the first three games, and the USA the next four.
"(USA playing Canada) brings out the best in both teams and it showcases women's hockey so well," said Canadian defender Catherine Ward.
The rivalry can also bring out the worst in each team, evidenced by some of the extracurricular physical play the games have seen.
"Obviously, it's going to create some little fights and stuff like that, but it's just part of the game," Labonte said.
The only news going into the game is that USA coach Katey Stone has picked Jessie Vetter to be in net. Stone has rotated her goalies through the pre-Olympic tour and the first two games of this tournament. Vetter played against Finland, and Molly Schaus was in net against Switzerland.
"We want the No. 1 seed, but any game against Canada, we will be ready for it," Lamoureux said.
Both teams are 2-0 going into Wednesday's matchup, with victories against the same two teams. The USA beat Finland 3-1, and Canada beat the Finns 3-0, although the Canada-Finland game was scoreless until almost midway through the third period.
Canada defeated the Swiss 5-0, and USA recorded a 9-0 verdict.
Players say it is difficult to predict how physical this meeting will become. "Honestly, it will depend on the reffing," Lamoureux said. "You will find out in the first five minutes."
Former NHL player and coach Kevin Dineen took over the Canadian team late in the season, and he hasn't experienced a win against the USA.
Said Ward: "I think he's been waiting for it."