SOCHI, Russia (AP) — The United States plays Canada in Olympic women's hockey Wednesday with little but pride at stake.
Four years after playing in Vancouver for the gold medal for the third time in four Olympics, the two North American women's hockey powers will meet in a round-robin game that has little impact on their chances to win it all.
Both teams have a bye into the semifinals, where they will face opponents that haven't been able to beat them yet.
Just don't try telling either team in the bitter rivalry that the game is meaningless.
"The fact that we played them this year in an exhibition game — you saw how that ended," Canadian assistant coach Lisa Haley said, referring to the brawls that ended two of the teams' games on the "Road to Sochi" tour. "It doesn't matter if there's a gold medal awarded at the end of the game or not."
International women's hockey has always been dominated by Canada and the U.S. The teams have combined to win every world championship and Olympic title game ever.
The gap separating them from the rest of the world is so wide, in fact, that the sport's international governing body tweaked its tournament format for Sochi to eliminate some of the blowouts that prompted then-IOC President Jacques Rogge to warn after Vancouver, "We cannot continue without improvement."
In Sochi, the top four teams and bottom four teams were put in separate groups for the round-robin, which is why the North Americans won't have to wait until the final to meet.