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St. Paul hosts Sunday's Game 7 of U.S.-Canada Rivalry Series

U.S.-Canada Rivalry Series (Game 7)

1 p.m., Sunday at Xcel Energy Center

TV: NHL Network

Of course it ended up like this. The latest meetings between the U.S. and Canada's national women's hockey teams — dubbed the "Rivalry Series" — have come down to a seventh and final game Sunday afternoon at Xcel Center in St. Paul.

Doesn't it always for the only two countries that have won Olympic gold?

This time, the Americans won the first three games in November and December and the Canadians the last three, including 3-2 Wednesday in Saskatoon and 3-0 Friday in Regina, Saskatchewan. All three goals Friday were scored in the third period.

Now it's just one game in the final tuneup for April's IIHF Women's World Championship in Utica, N.Y.

After Friday's three-goal third period, Canada coach Troy Ryan lamented his team's "terrible start" and credited his goaltender Emerance Maschmeyer for keeping them tied until then.

"I think we knew if we played the way we could play, we would get ourselves back in this situation [tied 3-3]," Ryan said. "But we made it difficult on ourselves. Both of these games, we just had poor starts."

Ryan also coaches Toronto in the Professional Women's Hockey League, the new six-team league that has offered its own competition so far.

The PWHL's inaugural 24-game regular season resumes play Wednesday after an All-Star and Rivalry Series break. Toronto plays at Boston, and Ottawa at Minnesota in a regular season that concludes in May after another break for the world championship.

"For a long time, we've talked about us and Canada, us and Canada, us and Canada," PWHL Minnesota captain and three-time U.S. Olympian Kendall Coyne Schofield said during an NHL All-Star weekend in Toronto that included the 3-on-3 PWHL Showcase. "But we're not talking about that anymore.

"We're talking about professional hockey and what city you represent, what championship you want to bring to your city. Every night it's just great hockey and that's what we've waited for for so long."

Coyne Schofield played on a 3-on-3 line with Team Canada star and rival Marie-Philip Poulin and Olympic teammate Hilary Knight.

"It was super fun to be on the ice with her," Coyne Schofield said about Poulin. "Usually, I'm on the other side. Everyone watches her, which I totally get. It was fun. I had the puck and I was like, 'Nobody's worried about me.' I get why. Everyone is waiting for the puck to get to her."

Now she and Poulin have gone back to being rivals. Soon she and Knight will, too, when PWHL play resumes.

"What I love about this league is every game is critical," Coyne Schofield said. "Every line, every shift, every period, it's a battle. The scores are 3-2, 2-1 and the goaltenders are phenomenal. Every game and every point is big when you're only playing 24 games."

Story lines

* The teams were scheduled to play at Xcel Energy Center in December 2021 in a pre-Olympic matchup not yet labeled the "Rivalry Series."

That game was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. So the last time this matchup came to the Xcel was Dec. 3, 2017, when Canada beat the U.S. 2-1 in overtime. That was in the run-up for the 2018 Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea. The Americans lost on Canada's Brianne Jenner's goal 37 seconds into overtime before an announced crowd of 9,098.

"It just adds fuel to the fire," Warroad, Minn.'s Gigi Marvin said that day.

Two months later, the Americans beat Canada 3-2 in a shootout to win Olympic gold.

Sunday's game could supply a couple more logs.

* The U.S. roster includes seven Minnesotans: D Maggie Flaherty (Lakeville), D Madison Bizal (Elk River), F Kelly Pannek (Plymouth), F Grace Zumwinkle (Excelsior), F Taylor Heise (Lake City), D Emily Brown (Blaine), F Gabbie Hughes (Lino Lakes). Five of them play for Minnesota in the new Professional Women's Hockey League, while Brown plays for Boston and Hughes for Ottawa.

There are also five PWHL Minnesota players from outside Minnesota on the Rivalry roster as well: F Brittyn Fleming (Oregon, Wis.), D Natalie Buchbinder (Fairport, N.Y.), F Kendall Coyne Schofield (Palos Heights, Ill.), G Nicole Hensley (Lakewood, Colo.) and F Clair DeGeorge (Anchorage, Alaska).