On Golden Ponds: 3 Things to Watch in U.S.-Canada Women's Hockey Game

When it comes to women's ice hockey, this is what it's all about. The United States against Canada -- the world's superpowers in the women's game -- will face off for the first (and probably not last) time in Sochi on Wednesday. The game can be seen live at 7:30 a.m. ET/4:30 a.m. PT on the NBC Sports Network.

Let's prep for this on-ice showdown with a hat trick of things to watch while you're sipping that morning coffee and enjoying the game.

1. Style vs. Substance

The game plans of the two teams couldn't be more different. Team USA wants to go go go the entire game. The coaches want to see speed -- all of it -- and want quick transitions from offense to defense to catch the opposing team off-guard and out of position.

Canada, on the other hand, wants to grind it out more. The Canadians play strong positional hockey and take their chances when they arise. They're not particular flashy, but can score. And while there is no checking in the women's game, you better keep your head up on the ice or the last thing you'll see is a bright red maple leaf before being rubbed out along the boards.

Of these two styles, the American game is much better suited for the larger Olympic ice surface.  That will be something to keep an eye on early in the contest.

2. Canada's Response vs. U.S. Confidence

The Canadians survived a big scare in their win Monday against Finland, no doubt about it. They won by a score of 3-0, but for the first time in a long, long time the outcome of a game against a team other than the United States was in question.

Finnish goalie Noora Raty shut down the Canadians for two and a half periods, only to finally surrender a power-play goal on a tremendous shot from the high slot. That gust of wind we all felt in the U.S. at about the same time came from Team Canada fans unleashing a collective sigh of relief. The Canadians knew Finland didn't offer much in the way of a challenge offensively, but until they could get one past Raty, they had to realize that one bad bounce that led to a goal in their end could cost them the game.

How will that scare affect the Canadians against the United States? Hard to say. They'll either be much more aware of their own weaknesses and learn from them, or they'll hold those sticks just a little bit tighter knowing their next opponent is even better than the Finns.

The United States, meanwhile, is coming off of an offensive explosion against the Swiss. They scored nine, gave up none and dominated in all aspects of the game. But the Swiss aren't even close to the Canadians in talent.

The Americans must keep a level head and avoid overconfidence headed into the tilt with Canada. Get too full of yourself and you're bound to suffer a letdown. That's exactly what the Canadians are hoping for.

Staying in control of emotions could play a big factor in who comes out on top in this one.  Look for leadership from veterans like Julie Chu to help settle down an excitable U.S. squad.

3. Goalie Fight!

In a combined four games so far in Sochi, these two teams have combined to let in just one goal. ONE. Suffice it to say that the goaltenders for both teams have had tougher times in practice than in actual game action.

But while the everyone else has been garnering all the highlights so far in the Olympics, attention now turns to the women between the pipes.

Team USA coach Katey Stone wasn't giving out much information on who her starter will be against Canada. Molly Schaus delivered the shutout against the Swiss. Jessie Vetter won the first game against Finland. Brianne McLaughlin is also an option.

UPDATE: Vetter get the start for Team USA.

Team Canada also has three quality netminders to choose from, but it appears that Shannon Szabados, who got the shutout against Finland, will be called upon against the U.S. If her name sounds familiar, she shut out Team USA in the gold-medal game in Vancouver.

Throw in a 5-0 shutout in the 2010 semifinals against Sweden and that's three shutouts in a row for Szabados in Olympic play. But with the firepower that has been on display from the United States in these Games, odds aren't in her favor to continue that streak to four.

UPDATE: In a surprise move, it's Charline Labonte in net for the Canadians  despite Szabados's past success.

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