SOCHI, Russia – And so, the day of reckoning has finally arrived for the United States women's hockey team. The hours, the days, the months, the years, all of the time spent on the ice, in airplanes, in hotels, in video sessions, preparing for this one magical game.
Team USA vs. Team Canada will air on KARE 11 at 11 a.m. on Thursday. For Olympic gold. Just as it should be.
"We've worked four years for this one moment," said forward Megan Bozek of Buffalo Grove, Ill., who completed a four-year career at the University of Minnesota last season.
"We're right where we need to be," Bozek said. "There's 60 minutes left for us to achieve our dream."
The Americans played Canada in the group phase in Sochi, losing 3-2. Both then handily won their semifinal games to set up yet another title game between North American powers.
The U.S. won the inaugural women's hockey gold medal in 1998 in Nagano by defeating Canada. The Canadians won the next three: over the U.S. in 2002 and 2010 and over Sweden in 2006.
"We wouldn't want to face anyone else in the gold-medal game," said forward Amanda Kessel, the Madison, Wis., native who played at the University of Minnesota. "They're the defending Olympic champions so you want to play the best."
Canada has been on an envious roll, with 19 consecutive victories in Olympic play. Their three straight women's team gold medals put them in rare company. The only women's team that has reeled off more than three consecutive gold medals in Olympic play: the U.S. women's basketball team from 1996-2012.
They showed their dominance against Team USA on Feb. 13, falling behind 1-0 in the second period before scoring three unanswered goals.
"We just have to be crisper with everything we do," said defenseman Lee Stecklein of Roseville, Minn. "Every pass has to be where we want it. We need to forecheck like we have to. We need to backcheck like we have to."
Team USA coach Katey Stone said her team won't be tentative. She'd much rather see the Americans force the action.
"We're not going to sit back and see what happens," Stone said after Wednesday's practice.
The Americans say they didn't take advantage of their best asset in the first meeting with Canada in Sochi.
"We're a speed team and we didn't use any speed," Kessel said.
Time has flown by, it now seems, for Team USA. It doesn't seem all that long ago that they were gathering in Boston on Sept. 1 to begin the trek toward Olympic gold.
"It's pretty surreal right now," Bozek said. "This is my first Olympic experience and it feels like I've been here before. It's been an amazing journey.
"We've traveled four years for this one moment."