Penguins

USA, Canada games ‘never just exhibition’

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Team USA's Dani Cameranesi carries the puck against Canada. -- BDZ SPORTS

CRANBERRY, Pa. -- This week the U.S. and Canadian women's national teams will play two exhibition games -- one tonight, Nov. 8 at 7 p.m., and another on Nov. 10 at 1 p.m. -- at the Penguins' Lemieux Sports Complex in Cranberry.

These games are "exhibition" in name only. It's still the same heated rivalry, one of the best in all of hockey.

"It's called a training camp, but that couldn't be further from the truth," Hilary Knight said of this week. "It's a really big deal for us, and to have the Penguins' hospitality is great."

The United States and Canada have met in the gold medal game in five of the six Winter Olympics since women’s hockey was added in 1998, 18 of 19 Women’s World Championships (all except 2019), and 21 of the 23 Four Nations Cup tournaments.

The United States has dominated in the World Championships of late, winning gold in nine of the past 11 tournaments. Eight of those victories were over Canada, with the exception being the 2019 win over Finland. The United States won gold over Canada in the 1998 Olympics in Nagano, then Canada won gold in the next four Winter Olympics until the United States ended the streak and won gold in Pyeongchang in 2018.

These games in Cranberry are the first games between U.S. and Canada since they met in the preliminary round of the 2019 World Championship. In that meeting, the Americans came out on top, 3-2.

Given how often these two teams meet in high-stakes competition, they're incredibly familiar with each other. That level of familiarity leads to some pretty tight games.

"We both know each other inside and out," said Canadian defender Erin Ambrose. "We know the style we play, the game, the battle that it's going to be. That's going to be the exciting part. That's what we look forward to, that's the part we always enjoy."

"As much as we know them, they know us," Knight told me. "You just have to continue to push the envelope and really try and squeak out that one percent. Obviously they're a very skilled team, and we're equally as skilled. It's always a fun game when you can get talented players on the ice."

"We've run into them quite a bit," Team Canada defender Renata Fast told me. "We know each other's tendencies, but every year you can change things in your game and there's a couple of new players that come to play. So you always have to be aware of any changes."

"Every time the U.S. and Canada face off you can expect each team's best," said goaltender Maddie Rooney. "So I think fans will be happy with what they see and get a great performance out of both of us."

Rooney said that while she is familiar with Canada's skaters, "as a goalie, you always have to expect the unexpected," so on her end, she can't focus too much on prior matchups.

For the Canadians, these games represent the fresh start of a new season as they look to bounce back from last season's disappointing bronze medal at the World Championship.

"Every time we play against (the U.S.) they're exciting games," said Canadian forward Natalie Spooner. "It's a huge rivalry. It's the time to set the tone. We have a young team here, and they'll be looking to make an impact. We'll be looking to get some wins out of this. It's always close games, but it's been awhile since we've come with some wins. We're all excited."

"I think whenever we play (the U.S.) it's our best competition," Team Canada forward Sarah Nurse told me. "These are the games that we get up for."

"It's never just exhibition against the U.S.," laughed Fast. "It's important. It's fun to play against them, just to kind of get people experience in an exhibition format. In a sense, it's not a championship game so there's not that pressure. But at the same time, any time you play the States you're representing your country and you want to get a win."

"Any time we line up against (the U.S.) it's always an important matchup," said Ambrose. "It's more than just an exhibition game. It's been a little while since we've played them, so we're really excited to get back out there and get into some really good games."

For the Americans, these games are the first step of the season as they look to defend their spot atop the women's hockey world.

"When you're representing your country, it's a whole different level," Knight told me. "You bring out the best in one another. It's going to be a really fast, physical game, especially with the smaller ice surface. We're really excited to put our best foot forward and show what we've been working on and see what sticks, and continue to work on getting better and being the No. 1 team in the world."

Both games this week are already sold out, so if you haven't bought your tickets yet you're out of luck. However, the games will be broadcast on HockeyTV with Penguins broadcaster Josh Getzoff doing the play-by-play.

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