In Olympic Ice Hockey, the U.S.A. and Canada are in a league of their own on the women’s side. We saw Canada win both the group game and gold medal game, as the U.S. had to settle for silver after taking gold during the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang.
The bigger story is how both men’s teams played for the second-straight Olympics minus the NHL players.
Both the U.S.A. and Canada, like their women’s teams, were in the same group, with the Americans winning 4-2. The U.S. went undefeated in group play, carrying the one seed into the quarterfinals, only to fall in a shootout to Slovakia 3-2 after losing a 2-1 lead late in regulation, with that country going on to win the bronze, its first ever medal in men’s hockey. For Canada, they had to qualify for the quarterfinals, ultimately falling to Sweden 2-0.
The elephant in the room for both national teams is not having those NHL players, who were on track to be back in the Olympics until the omicron variant of COVID-19 forced multiple games to be postponed, with the NHL able to opt out, as the league is spending the original Olympic break catching up on dozens of games put on hold as the league paused.
For Team Canada to go home without a medal is a shocker these days. The country that invented the game has won the gold medal in three of the last six Winter Olympic games (2002, 2010, 2014), winning a bronze in 2018 without the aid of the pros.
Teams U.S.A.’s Olympic resume also got a boost from having NHL players. 2002 in Salt Lake City and 2010 in Vancouver were silver medal finishes, with, you guessed it, their neighbor up north coming up gold.
Who doesn’t remember Sidney Crosby’s overtime goal in that gold medal game back in 2010? Keep in mind, the U.S. beat Canada in the group stage that year.
You can argue that this is where both teams peaked in their rivalry…
Following the heartbreaking loss in Vancouver, the U.S. fell in the bronze medal game during the 2014 Sochi Olympics and finished a distant 7th in 2018, their worst finish since Turin in 2006.
After the U.S. beat Canada in this year’s Olympics, some whispers began that this team, one that didn’t have the luxury of NHL players being on the roster, was showing similarities to the 1980 Miracle team in Lake Placid, the last time the U.S. stood atop the podium. That narrative quickly died as former Boston Bruin Peter Cehlarik scored the lone-goal in the shootout to give Slovakia the eventual win.
There is no question about it, the U.S. and Canada having access to NHL players has made both teams medal contenders since the league started partaking in the Olympics back in 1998, with a hiatus in 2018 that extended into this year’s games due to a worldwide pandemic.
The 2026 Winter Olympics see a return to Italy, where both national teams had their worst finishes since the NHL era began. Chances are the pro players from that league will be taking part again, giving both the U.S. and Canada that competitive edge they enjoyed before the league pulled out four years ago.