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US, Canada meet in early Olympic showdown among world’s best

Ice Hockey - Winter Olympics Day 4

GANGNEUNG, SOUTH KOREA - FEBRUARY 13: Team United States huddles before the Women’s Ice Hockey Preliminary Round - Group A game against Olympic Athletes from Russia on day four of the PyeongChang 2018 Winter Olympic Games at Kwandong Hockey Centre on February 13, 2018 in Gangneung, South Korea. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

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ANGNEUNG, South Korea (AP) — Much more than bragging rights are on the line anytime the Americans and Canadians meet, and the Olympics offers the opportunity to showcase just how good the best in women’s hockey really are these days.

NBCOlympics.com: Canada women shooting for 5th gold

No medal will be on the line Thursday. Just the top spot in the best group in pool play along with the choice of jersey color and benches for the next time they play — ideally the gold medal game.

Only gold will do for the United States at the Pyeongchang Games with the Americans mired in a 20-year title drought. And this will be the first time the Americans have played their biggest rival in the Olympics since Canada stunned the United States by rallying from a 2-0 deficit to win gold at the 2014 Sochi Games with a 3-2 overtime victory.

Canada stands at the top of Group A, despite both teams being 2-0, thanks to having scored one more goal (nine) than the Americans (eight). Both teams have allowed one goal apiece — both to Finland. Canada beat Finland by 4-1 compared to the Americans’ 3-1 win to open preliminary play.

The Americans canceled practice Wednesday after beating the Russians 5-0 late Tuesday night. The Canadians practiced after their win over Finland.

U.S. coach Robb Stauber has tried to keep his players focused on only one opponent at a time, trying to ignore the inevitable game with Canada until a day away.

“We know we have the next game,” Stauber said. “We know that opponent very well.”

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