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Could a Pro League Make the Canada-U.S. Women’s Hockey Rivalry Even Better?

As Canada appeared headed to a methodical win over the U.S. on Monday, it felt like, for once, the vaunted rivalry had lost a touch of energy.

Turns out that couldn’t have been less true.

The final minutes of the game provided plenty of drama as a disallowed goal, a clock malfunction and last-minute heroics meant Canada needed to earn its eventual 4-3 win the hard way via shootout.

It sets up what will likely be another North American showdown in Sunday’s world championship gold-medal game at the CAA Centre in Brampton, Ont.

That tilt would be the ninth between the teams dating back to last August, when a delayed 2022 world championship was held in Denmark.

It’s arguably the greatest rivalry in sports right now, and it delivers with stunning consistency.

“They’re by far the best games,” Canadian goalie Ann-Renée Desbiens said after Monday’s affair. “I don’t think this rivalry can get any better.”

Fair enough. But the addition of a formal professional league, featuring all of the countries’ top talent, could certainly add another layer to the heavyweight fight we’ve seen on repeat for years.

Every player on both North American rosters except U.S. forward Becca Gilmore is currently a member of the Professional Women’s Hockey Players’ Association (PWHPA). Gilmore plays in the Premier Hockey Federation, which also houses five members of the Czech Republic team among others.

There are reports the PWHPA, which has played a barnstorming showcase series called the Dream Gap Tour over the last four years, will begin a formal, structured league next fall.

“Even this year we got to play with some of them so we might have become a little more friends with them off the ice, but on the ice not so much,” Desbiens said. “I think after the game if we run into them we’ll definitely chat and stuff but as soon as you put the Canada jersey on there’s definitely no friends out there.”

New Battles Within the War

What a formal pro league could provide are new battles within the war.

Imagine the likes of young stars Sarah Fillier and Taylor Heise winning a pro championship together, then turning foes in the sport’s most intense rivalry just weeks later.

When Desbiens faces off against an American pro teammate, who would have the edge?

Or, conversely, how much would an interpersonal rivalry bloomed in the pro league be heightened in international play?

Nordic rivals Sweden and Finland already experience something similar, with many of their top players stationed in the Swedish Women’s Hockey League (SDHL)

Finnish forward Petra Nieminen, 23, has already participated in five major championships for her country. She said beating Sweden, as Finland did in this tournament, is “always good.”

“When you know it’s your teammates on the other side, it’s really nice,” she said.

Sweden captain Anna Kjellbin, who plays with Nieminen and other Finns in the SDHL, said knowing her opponents only adds to the rivalry.

“Obviously, it does. One hundred per cent. I hate losing, but I especially hate losing to my friends,” Kjellbin told CBC Sports.

Then again, maybe we don’t need to fix something that ain’t broken.

Games between Canada and the U.S. almost always come down to a single goal. The inevitability of the matchup during a tournament leadup only heightens the intensity.

Canadian forward Sarah Nurse, a member of the PWHPA board, said she hopes a pro league someday becomes “our main source of hockey.”

“Unfortunately we only get some Rivalry Series games throughout the year, we only get one world championship a year, so you don’t get to see best on best,” she said.

“So having a professional league you’re gonna be able to see that week in, week out and then obviously it’s going to make a world championship that much more special because the Canada-USA rivalry doesn’t happen that often.”

A schedule more in line with nearly every other sport, where the majority of games are played professionally, could make international tournaments feel even more important.

Teammate Renata Fast told CBC Sports earlier in the tournament she hopes a pro championship gets to the level of international titles at some point. Nurse agreed.

“I think that is the ultimate goal. Young boys grow up wanting to hoist the Stanley Cup and so we want that same thing on our side,” she said.

On Tuesday, Germany edged Hungary 2-1 to clinch the second spot in Group B, while Sweden crushed France 8-2 to lock up the third spot.

The results mean Canada will get Sweden in the quarterfinals on Thursday at 5 p.m. ET, while the U.S. will play Germany at 1:30 p.m. ET that day.

The other two quarterfinal matchups will be determined in the final group-stage game between the Czech Republic and Switzerland later Tuesday.

Source : CBC