SOCHI, Russia — Maybe the clearest sign of just how intense the U.S.-Canada rivalry is in women's hockey — even here in the preliminary round in which the result had no effect on winning a gold medal — came from American forward Amanda Kessel.
Wednesday's preliminary round game was over, a 3-2 victory for Canada. The result will likely mean nothing. Both of the sport's superpowers had clinched spots in the semifinals. If each wins one game — they'll both be heavily favored — then they'll play again next Thursday, this time for an Olympic title, exactly what each has been building toward.
It wasn't meaningless, though. Not even close, and that much was evident on the sweat-stained face of Kessel.
Maybe for many, this was a celebration of women's hockey, a chance to show the sport's potential. There was a packed and enthusiastic house at the Shayba Arena, spirited and skilled play, even controversy and down-to-the-final-second action.
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For the Americans, this was a loss. A loss to the team they hate losing to the most — a loss they now want very much to avenge.
So when Kessel was asked about all the NHL stars who came over to watch the much-anticipated game, she was unfazed.
"They're just somebody else in the crowd," she said.
When she was asked about her brother, Phil, a Toronto Maple Leaf and star of the American men's team, being there in a rare chance for him to see her play in person, she was no more interested.
"Yeah, didn't really make a difference," she said.
This was intensity on display. Preliminaries? Forget it, not when it's the Canadians across the way.
"I have a little sour taste in my mouth right now," she said. "Coming away from this game, we can learn from that."
This was not a happy group of Americans here, in part because of the loss, in part because of the opponent and in part because Canada's second goal came clearly after the whistle — but video review upheld it.
"We thought we heard a whistle before the puck went in the net, and they celebrated before the light went on, before the ref made a decision," captain Meghan Duggan said.
It was a bad call, but it wasn't necessarily the deciding moment. It came early in the third and made the game only 2-1. "We have to bounce back from that, battle through that," forward Jocelyne Lamoureux said.
In the end this was about the result, not the way it was achieved. The Americans knew they played well enough to win. They had shots on net in the final seconds. They can beat the Canadians.
They just didn't. And there was no masking that.
"Losing stinks," said defenseman Anne Schleper.
The only solace was that there will be a tomorrow. The semifinals will come Monday. The United States will likely face Finland. They'll do their best not to think of Canada.
"We've got to clean up a few things," Duggan said. "If we get a chance to face [Canada] again, we need to fine-tune some things."
"It stings when you lose in this tournament," Lamoureux said. "We've got to remember how it feels, because from here on out ... we have to be better."
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This rivalry has electrified women's hockey. The U.S. won the first Olympic gold in this sport in 1998. Canada has won the past three. They've traded world championships and winning streaks, games often decided in overtime or even shootouts.
Everything was kicked up a notch the past few months, featuring full-on brawls during games in October and December. It only increased interest and, if anything, credibility.
The game here was physical, but not out of control. Strict disqualification rules, which can carry over to the next game, make things too risky.
That didn't mean there wasn't an edge.
"The rivalry that everybody knows about that we have with Canada is huge," Duggan said. "You get butterflies in these games. It's big games. It's huge. We've faced them in huge championship games."
Now they want one more. Wednesday meant little in the grand scheme of things. Just don't tell the Americans that.