‘I truly think we’re the best team’: Knight, U.S. confident ahead of hockey worlds

Hilary Knight is not used to losing and still puts a pang on the face of the US women’s ice hockey team as she watches the Canadians celebrate their gold medal win at the Beijing Winter Games in February.

Memories of the 3-2 defeat gave Knight hope to settle scores before the Americans headed to Denmark, where they will open the World Cup with a game against Japan on Thursday.

“I really think we’re the best team in the world. And if that doesn’t show in a tournament, then we haven’t fulfilled our potential,” Knight told The Associated Press. “So I think we’ve only scratched the surface at the Olympics.”

Informed that there might be 23 players north of the border who might differ in their assessment of who is the best, Knight shrugged and said, “That’s fine. I do not care. Cool.”

10 nations can compete, but as is usual in women’s hockey, the focus will be on the United States and Canada, who will resume the next chapter of one of the sport’s toughest and longest-running rivalries.

Canada has bragging rights. Canada’s victory in Beijing came four years after losing to the United States at the 2018 games in South Korea. They are also the defending champions after a 3-2 win in extra time a year ago to end the Americans’ five-consecutive title streak. They also handed the USA a 3-1 defeat in a friendly in Denmark on Tuesday.

Canada coach Troy Ryan responds

Coach Troy Ryan, who is proud of Canada’s achievements, was reluctant to learn of Knight’s comments.

“Every player or coach has their own opinion,” said Ryan. “We definitely don’t pay much attention to what the opposition says. We focus on what makes us successful.”

Canada’s success was fueled by Ryan, who introduced a high-octane attacking style unseen in women’s football in the 24 years since it became an Olympic sport.

CLOCK | Poulin seals Canada’s 2021 World Gold Medal win:

Poulin scores a nice OT winner to take Canada’s gold at the Worlds

Marie-Philip Poulin scored a fantastic goal to give Canada a 3-2 win and their first World Cup gold medal since 2012.

Canada took a 7-0 lead in Beijing, beating their opponents by an aggregate margin of 57-10, including a 4-2 preliminary round win over the USA. Led by Sarah Nurse’s 18 points, the Canadians finished first through sixth in the tournament’s points standings. Knight finished seventh with 10.

As with other nations, Canada’s roster is different now with the nation missing five key players due to various other commitments. One player who will be on the ice is captain Marie-Philip Poulin, who has scored the decisive goal against the Americans in each of their last two gold medal meetings and four times in total.

The Americans are also bringing back 18 of 23 Olympians and have a new coach in John Wroblewski, replacing Joel Johnson.

Wroblewski brings his own quick approach and has spread his offense across four lines. It’s a move from Johnson, who stacked his best players on two lines and played hard on his veterans who were worn down over the course of the Olympic tournament.

Wroblewski doesn’t make any major changes otherwise, except to pay more attention to completion chances. The USA finished the Olympics seventh out of 10 teams with just 30 goals on 374 shots on goal, leading the tournament.

“This group just has to believe in us,” said goalkeeper Nicole Hensley. “We have a lot of people in our space who have been successful at every single stage. We’ve done it before. We can do it again.”

One issue that could overshadow the tournament is contract talks between the American and Canadian players and their respective federations. Both contracts expire at the end of the month, with the tournament’s league game scheduled for September 4th.

“It’s only a distraction if we make it one,” said American captain Kendall Coyne Schofield. “Yes, of course we would like to have it ready but we don’t for a reason. So we’ll see what happens.”

Fast processing to Beijing

The annual World Cup after each Olympic year has the potential to be the most competitive due to roster changes and teams having little practice time given the quick turnaround to Beijing. This gives nations like Finland, Czech Republic, Switzerland and possibly Sweden a chance to be competitive.

Such was the case in 2019, when Finland upset Canada in the semifinals and were just a controversial goal-scorer away from knocking out the Americans in the gold medal game.

Finland’s GM Tuula Puputti is cautiously optimistic her Olympic bronze medal-winning team can compete again. After Canada, the Finns are also introducing a faster offensive attack under new coach Juuso Toivola.

“Overall, it’s a good thing that we’re raising the level of our game because we want to make an interesting product out of it. And the better we play, the more fun it is to watch,” said Puputti. “Apparently, [the Canadians and Americans] are still the ones to beat but I’m excited to see if we have something new in our pockets.”

Ryan has left Beijing behind by focusing on the worlds that pose a new challenge. To underscore this point, Ryan brought a guest speaker to talk about his experience climbing Mount Everest.

“One of his messages was that you only have a very brief moment at the top and then you descend,” Ryan said. “And that was our mindset. We have been there. That was last year. We are back at base camp, back in reality.”

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