Canada vs. USA women’s hockey: A view inside the greatest rivalry at the 2022 Beijing Olympics

Sean Fitz-Gerald Feb 7, 2022 22
On Feb. 21, 2002, Hayley Wickenheiser was angry and out of breath. She was also live, coast-to-coast, on the CBC, and with her Canadian hockey teammates still celebrating their Olympic gold-medal win over her left shoulder, she vented her fury into living rooms across the country.

Don Cherry had asked her a question about the officiating. Terry Leibel, the veteran sports broadcaster, was holding the microphone just below the star forward’s gritted teeth. Canada had just beaten the U.S. 3-2 in the championship game at the Salt Lake City Winter Games.

“You know what?” Wickenheiser said. “The Americans had our flag on their floor in the dressing room.”

She drew a sharp breath and fixed her glare directly toward the camera: “And now I want to know if they want us to sign it.”

In that 10 seconds, an on-ice rivalry bubbled over into a full-fledged international incident. The story circled the globe. Several Canadian players confirmed it was a story they had been told before heading onto the ice for the final push toward gold. Players from the U.S. fiercely denied it ever happened.

It took four days for USA Hockey and the Canadian Hockey Association to complete the investigation, concluding that no maple leaf was ever harmed in the making of those Olympics. As American hockey executive Doug Palazzari said: “There is no question there is a healthy rivalry between the two teams, but there is also great mutual respect.”

That rivalry has evolved through the years, from the first time women were able to play for an Olympic medal, in 1998, through this month, as Canada and the U.S. cross paths once again in what has become perhaps the premier rivalry of the entire Winter Games program. They’ll play each other Monday night at 11:10 p.m.