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‘It gets your blood flowing’: US-Canada hockey rivalry peaking for Olympics

(Derek Leung/Getty Images)

It will be three years ago this coming February that the United States women’s hockey team defeated Canada in a shootout at the 2018 Winter Games in PyeongChang to capture Olympic gold.

Much has transpired since that historic day.

While the global COVID-19 pandemic disrupted the women’s hockey calendar over the past two years, new faces emerged on the Canadian and American teams. The IIHF Women’s World Hockey Championship returned in August, with Canada regaining its form and defeating the United States in the gold-medal game on Marie-Philip Poulin’s overtime winner.

Now, the Rivalry Series, which features a total of nine games over four months, gives the teams a chance to reignite the competition in different American and Canadian cities. And with the Beijing Olympics under 100 days away, the longtime rivalry is peaking once again.

“It motivates you and helps build on your successes,” Hilary Knight said after Team USA’s Game 3 victory in the Rivalry Series. “You can sit back and say, ‘OK, what worked well? What didn’t work?’ But winning always feels good. That’s why we sign up as competitors.”

The storied battles between these two teams began with the United States defeating Canada 3-1 at the 1998 Nagano Games, the first time the Olympics featured women’s ice hockey. For the next 16 years, Canada dominated at the Games, completing a run of four straight gold medals with a dramatic overtime win in Sochi in 2014, courtesy of Poulin. Team USA’s win in PyeongChang not only snapped Canada’s streak but also proved to the world that the Americans weren’t going away.

Every time the players lace up their skates and put on their respective jerseys, the rivalry is reborn.

“I think both teams match up well against each other and we can expect a battle moving forward,” said Canada head coach Troy Ryan.

Canada took Games 1 and 2 of the Rivalry Series in October. On the ice in Hartford, Conn. and Allentown, Penn., the Canadians outscored the Americans 6-3, with Sarah Fillier and Emily Clark leading Team Canada with two goals each.

As the series shifted to Kingston and Ottawa for Games 3 and 4 last week, fans packed the arenas to watch the best women’s hockey players in the world. Game 3 started well for Team Canada. Poulin fired a blazing wrist shot through traffic on the power play to open the scoring. Not even two minutes later, Fillier’s shot off the faceoff made it 2-0 Canada.

But then Team USA found its form, wearing the Canadians down with physical play on the boards and winning puck battles. Hayley Scamurra brought Team USA within one before Game 3 turned into the Hilary Knight show. The star forward scored to tie the game and and then slotted home the overtime winner to give the U.S. a 3-2 victory.

Goalkeeper Maddie Rooney led the way for Team USA in Game 4, helping the U.S. overcome Canada’s 26-20 shot advantage to win 2-0 behind goals from Knight and Amanda Kessel.

“It’s never easy losing to the Americans,” Poulin said.

The U.S. team has a new look to it three years after PyeongChang, most notably behind the bench. Interim head coach Joel Johnson will lead the U.S. into Beijing after Bob Corkum, who succeeded Robb Stauber in 2018, stepped down earlier this year due to COVID-19 concerns. While mainstays Knight, Kessel and Brianna Decker return, Team USA will replace stars like Meghan Duggan, Monique Lamoureux-Morando and Jocelyn Lamoureux-Davidson with an influx of young players looking to make their mark in Beijing.

Jincy Dunne, a 24-year-old defender, made Team USA’s 25-player roster for the 2014 Sochi Olympics but was cut when the roster had to be trimmed down to 21. Just 17 years old at the time, Dunne would have been the youngest player ever to skate for a U.S. women’s hockey team at the Olympics.

Over the years, she’s picked up valuable experience, winning gold at the U18 World Championship and the 4 Nations Cup. At Ohio State, Dunne was named the university’s Female Athlete of the Year and was a two-time AHCA First-Team All-American.

“Each squad is going to be different,” said Team USA blueliner Megan Keller. “We have a whole new team with veterans and rookies. You have to find your chemistry as a team and who you are. We’re looking ahead to 2022, focusing on one step at a time and getting to the next level.”

Team Canada is taking a similar approach, with veterans like Poulin and Natalie Spooner mentoring the talented newcomers.

Fillier, 21, is one of those players who can make an impact now and into the future for Canada. The Princeton alum made her Canadian national team debut in 2018 at the 4 Nations Cup before being named Ivy League Rookie of the Year after the 2018-19 college hockey season. Fillier’s playmaking and ability to create offense have made her a potential top-six forward on the Canadian Olympic squad.

“She’s a highly skilled player who plays the game with a lot of speed,” Ryan said. “She’s gained a lot of confidence over the last year. She’s made some great adjustments to her game to consistently contribute, whether it’s on the power play or 5-on-5. I’m sure we’ll be hearing a lot of her moving forward.”

Since the win at the World Championships, Ryan has preached the importance of showing up to work to get better every day and taking each game as it comes.

“The focus has been primarily on us being the best version of ourselves,” Ryan said. “The more we stick to what makes us successful, the better we’re going to be against our opposition.”

Every Rivalry Series game is an opportunity for the coaching staffs to evaluate players as they prepare to name their Olympic rosters.

“It’s fun to be around them every day,” Johnson said of the U.S. players in camp. “They’re making each other better. They’re making me better. They’re challenging me as a coach.”

Hockey Canada CEO Tom Renney said that the Canadian Olympic team will be announced in the middle of December. Team USA is expected to unveil its final roster on Jan. 1.

The final games of the Rivalry Series, taking place in Canada in January after the announcement of both Olympic rosters, will serve as the most compelling tune-ups for Beijing. When the puck drops on the Olympic ice in February, the players will be ready to add another chapter to the storied rivalry.

“It gets your blood flowing in a different way, and it brings the best level of a competitor in you,” Knight said about facing Team Canada. “There’s nothing like suiting up, throwing the jersey on, and going out there with all the pride on the line.”

“We’ve got a great group here and we are just focusing on the process,” said Canada forward Jamie Lee Rattray. “Every day, we get up to go to work and take it day by day. We show in these games against them that we can play with a lot of grit, that we have our backs out there, which is something that builds a team over the year.”

Lukas Weese is a contributing writer at Just Women’s Sports. He also serves as Associate Editor at Sportsnet and has contributed to other outlets such as The Toronto Star and The Undefeated. Follow him on Twitter @Weesesports.

Sofia Huerta signs contract extension with Seattle through 2027

(Daniel Bartel-USA TODAY Sports)

Former Oregon soccer players detail instances of verbal abuse from former USWNT assistant

(Chris Pietsch/The Register-Guard via Imagn Content Services)

Members of the Oregon women’s soccer team are saying they received harsh treatment and even verbal abuse from head coach and former USWNT assistant Graeme Abel. 

During the 2023 season, the team had zero wins, and upon its conclusion a total of 12 of the team’s 29 players departed the team. Former players told The Oregonian that Abel would verbally attack them, threaten to kick them off the team and at times would even throw objects.

"When I’d make a mistake at practice, it felt like he made it a job to embarrass you to the point where you just wanted to walk off the field,” one player said. “He’d stop the practice – and I know it’s college soccer, it’s very competitive — but he’d stop practice and just keep going nonstop on this one thing."

In total, the Oregonian spoke with 14 former players – including 12 who agreed to be interviewed in depth. All said that they experienced verbal abuse. Six of the players were among those who transferred following the season. 

One instance of Abel’s tirades included him throwing a water bottle that narrowly missed players’ heads. 

“He kicked all of our staff out of the locker room, kicked a trash can, threw a white board, sat on the trash can and started screaming,” one player recounted. “He wanted us to tell him what we thought went wrong in the game. Me and another player spoke up, and he said, ‘You’re just (expletive) wrong.’ And that if we didn’t want to be in this program, we could all quit, and he’d sign our release paperwork tomorrow.”

While Abel was not made available for an interview, he did say in a statement that “at no point have I used threatening statements or financial repercussions as a part of coaching.”

Instances of emotional distress stemming from Abel’s alleged harsh treatment date back to 2021 – his first full year leading the team following an abbreviated 2020 campaign.

Other former players contacted by The Oregonian detailed positive overall experiences, and described his style as “normal coaching.”

Others, like USWNT players Becky Sauerbrunn and Lindsey Horan, did not respond to requests for comment, although Sauerbrunn wrote in 2019 that she had a “great relationship” with Abel. 

Still, multiple players interviewed had similar stories, with one saying that girls would be “crying in the locker room” after practice because of what he would tell players. Attempts to speak with the administration about his behavior, players say, was “discouraging.”

“His office is like the scariest place,” one player said. “You’d have to sit there while he’d belittle you and say all these nasty things, and gaslight you into believing you’re not good enough. ... Our team fell apart because of the environment he created. We were just trying to get through the day. There was no way we could focus on soccer.”

Multiple players said they experienced suicidal ideation while playing at Oregon. In part of his statement, Abel wrote that “at no time do we put our student-athletes in any danger.”

Abel is currently in his fifth and final year of his contract at Oregon.

Gotham FC unveil Championship rings ahead of banner reveal

Gotham FC players celebrate Lynn Williams' goal in the first half of the 2023 NWSL Championship. (Ray Acevedo/USA TODAY Sports)

Gotham FC has unveiled their 2023 NWSL championship rings — and safe to say, they deliver.

The reveal has led to a little bit of trash talk ahead of the team’s matchup with Kansas City this weekend, as both teams have NFL owners. While the Current are co-owned by Patrick and Brittany Mahomes, former Giants quarterback Eli Manning is a co-owner of Gotham. 

On Wednesday, Manning took to Sportscenter to give Mahomes a bit of a hard time.

“He may have one more Super Bowl ring than me, but he does not have a NWSL championship ring like I do,” Manning joked.

“Come Sunday night at Red Bull Arena, April 14th, we’re dropping the banner on Kansas City. We got the ring ceremony, the players get their rings and their championship afterwards. This is it, I’ve got something to talk a little trash to him about because I can’t do it about football anymore, I gotta find something else.”

The appearance came after Manning posted to social media, inviting Mahomes to “come see [the championship ring] up close this Sunday.”

Mahomes responded in kind, writing that “we’ll see y’all Sunday!”

Gotham takes on current league-leaders Kansas City on Sunday at 6pm ET. The game is available on NWSL+.

Oregon State hit by transfer portal again as Raegan Beers departs

ALBANY, NEW YORK - MARCH 31: Raegan Beers #15 of the Oregon State Beavers shoots a free throw during the first half against the South Carolina Gamecocks in the Elite 8 round of the NCAA Women's Basketball Tournament at MVP Arena on March 31, 2024 in Albany, New York. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Oregon State leading scorer and rebounder Raegan Beers announced on Thursday that she is entering the transfer portal. 

"Thank you for all of your endless love and support these past two years," she posted on social media. "I will never forget my time at OSU and I am thankful for the opportunity I had to meet and play with incredible people. My journey as a Beav was a special one and I am grateful for my teammates, coaches, fans, and friends who have changed my life throughout my time here."

A sophomore forward, Beers is a two-time All-Pac-12 selection who averaged 17.5 points per game last season while shooting 66.4 percent from the field. She also added 10.3 rebounds en route to earning third-team All-American honors from the AP. 

She’s the fourth Oregon State starter – and seventh player overall – to hit the portal this offseason. She joins Talia von Oelhoggen and Timea Gardiner in the transfer portal, as well as starting freshman Donovyn Hunter. 

Beers and Gardiner were both top-10 recruits in ESPN rankings coming out of high school. 

With the dissolution of the Pac-12, the program will join the WCC next season and no longer be a part of the Power 5.

Conference realignment is hitting the team hard, with coach Scott Rueck saying during the tournament that he knew it could seriously affect his team moving forward. 

"That's reality," Rueck said. "I can't control that, other than just keep doing what I'm doing. I think the opportunity within that for a leader provides a discipline that you'd better be on your A-game all the time. You'd better take care of people, and you'd better provide a great experience. That's the approach going forward and what happens, happens. We'll find a way."

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