The women skated around the face-off circle, all of them having already mastered the Finns, the Swiss and the Russians.
They had come to the Beijing Games for this: another duel between Canada and the United States, the most celebrated rivalry in women’s hockey.
By afternoon’s end at the Wukesong Sports Center, after Canada won, 4-2, the Canadians oozed confidence, the Americans glowered and the rest of the field in Beijing braced for whatever onslaughts both might unleash in the days ahead as they pursue the Olympic title that will be awarded on Feb. 17.
Since the Games began, neither Canada nor the United States had confronted a matchup of speed and power like the one that unfolded on Tuesday. That wasn’t surprising. Both are the only two countries to capture gold medals since women’s hockey became an Olympic sport in 1998.
The Canadians were, as ever, efficient shooters, taking aim at the American goalie Maddie Rooney 27 times. The United States challenged her Canadian counterpart, Ann-Renee Desbiens, with 53 shots.
“For us, we really want to focus on quality chances over quantity,” Canada forward Sarah Nurse said. “I know that we’ve had a lot of shots this tournament, as well, but I think we have a big focus on getting Grade A scoring chances.”
Deepening the dig just a bit, Nurse added: “Yeah, the U.S. got a lot of perimeter shots, but we had a stellar goaltender, and so if you’re going to be shooting from the outside, you’re not going to score on her.”
The United States conceded that it would need a new strategy against Desbiens, who is competing in her second Olympics.
“It’s great to get zone time and shots on goal, but when they’re blocking as many as they did and some of those things, shots don’t matter,” said Joel Johnson, the U.S. coach. “We’ve got to find a different way to create higher quality scoring chances if we expect to win a game like this.”
Canada’s display of offensive might did not begin as quickly as it did in other games, when the puck had barely dropped before the goal horn sounded.
It started with just under six minutes to play in the first period, when, with the Americans down a player because of a crosschecking penalty, Marie-Philip Poulin took control of the puck. She passed to Sarah Fillier, who was lurking around the Olympic rings just beyond the goal line.
Fillier slid the puck to Brianne Jenner, who extended her stick just far enough to redirect it past Rooney, whose head instantly dropped in dismay.
The transnational defensive wizardry of the first period, the goal notwithstanding, did not last. It was all but abandoned, in fact, across about eight minutes in the second period when the Americans and Canadians combined for five goals.
At almost the midpoint of the 60-minute game, Kelly Pannek, an American forward, passed to a fast-approaching Dani Cameranesi. A defender missed, and Cameranesi evened the score.
Thirty seconds later, the officials cited the Canadian forward Emily Clark for boarding. It was another chance for the Americans, who had failed to score on two previous power plays, and Alex Carpenter swiftly popped the puck into the goal for the United States, giving the Americans the narrowest of advantages.
It lasted 26 seconds.
Then Jenner scored after Rooney’s wager on where the puck would fly went wrong. Jamie Lee Rattray, a Canadian forward, added another goal to her team’s tally soon after.
Matters worsened for the Americans several minutes later, when a hooking call led to a penalty shot, which Poulin converted to stake a two-goal lead for Canada.