Now that it's official, and the 2010 U.S. Olympic women's hockey team has been named, is the pressure lifted or does it only get heavier from here?
As the two-time defending world champions, of course, the Americans were tabbed the early favorites to take gold in Vancouver, but after dropping five of their last six games against archrival Canada, the balance of power seems to be tilting back into the Olympic host nation 's favor.
In the essentially bipolar system of women's hockey -- the U.S. or Canada has won every gold medal awarded at Worlds or Olympics since international competition began in 1990 -- no matchup means more. And even though Team USA's recent slide against Canada can't bode well, U.S. defenseman
"On the pre-Olympic tours, we do have an opportunity to see each other more often," she says. "To be honest, it's gone back and forth. Going into 1998, we were dead even in games won and lost against them heading into Nagano, and we ended up on top. The next [Olympics in Salt Lake City], we were 8-0 against them and then ended up second. So as far as the record goes, it really doesn't matter. It matters who shows up in February."
What's been seen so far this season, however, is an offensively potent Canadian team that has outscored the U.S. by 28-17 in eight meetings since August. Seven of Canada's goals have come at the hands of
Team Canada, however, has perhaps been more impressive defensively, holding the Americans to two goals or fewer in their last five meetings. That can be frustrating for the Team USA's attack-minded players, led by University of Wisconsin standout
"Part of the process in getting to the end is dealing with these frustrations," he says. "Certainly, we don't like to lose. It's not fun. It's not enjoyable. I don't sleep well when we lose, but in the big picture.... I see improvement and strides being made."
As the Games near, the Americans will meet Canada twice more -- Dec. 30 at the Xcel Energy Center in Minneapolis and two days later in Ottawa -- before they begin playing for the real thing. These meetings will be the litmus test for Team USA. Any pressure that any player felt about making the team is now gone, and it's time to see if they can regain some swagger going into Vancouver, where the Canadian crowds will be vocally partisan and decidedly not in favor of the red, white and blue.