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Olympics: USA, Canada set for another gold medal clash

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

Defending champions Canada and reigning world champions the United States will square off in their second-straight Olympic Games women's hockey gold medal clash.

The US clobbered Sweden 6-1 in the semi-finals Monday while Canada rolled over Switzerland 3-1 to set the stage for another superpower showdown in Thursday's final.

"It is surreal. I don't think I am going to realize I was here until the Olympics are over," said Canadian forward Natalie Spooner, who scored two goals on Monday.

"We are going for gold and that is the game we want to be in."

The two teams have been mainstays at the top of international women's hockey ladder ever since the sport was included in the Winter Games in 1998 in Nagano.

Canada has won the last three Olympic gold medals while the Americans have won four of the last five Women's World Championships, but they're hungry to end that Olympic drought.

"It's all in our control," said US defenceman Anne Schleper.

"We both have talented players. It's really up to who is ready to bring it or not. It's about not making mistakes - that's how games are won."

Alex Carpenter and Kacey Bellamy scored just 66 seconds apart in the first period as the United States crushed Sweden at the Shayba Arena.

The Americans dominated the semi-final from the opening faceoff, holding a whopping 29-1 shot advantage in the first period, with Sweden failing to even muster their first shot on goal until nearly 14 minutes into the contest.

Amanda Kessel, Megan Bozek, Brianna Decker and Monique Lamoureux also scored for the Americans, who have now beaten Sweden 12 out of the past 13 times they have faced each other in major international games.

"It's awesome," said American forward Lamoureux. "I think it's something we were expected to do. We've been preparing for it for the last four years and putting in a lot of work."

Jessie Vetter made just eight saves for the USA while Swedish goaltenders Valentina Wallner and Kim Martin Hasson faced 70 shots between them.

Valentina was especially busy as the United States peppered her with 47 shots in 32:21 minutes.

"It was too big a challenge for us to beat the US," said Swedish assistant coach Leif Boork.

This marks the fourth time in the past five Olympics, the USA and Canada have faced each other in the gold medal game.

The USA won four straight games against Canada in a pre-Olympic exhibition series including one by a commanding 5-1 score.

But the Canadians beat the Americans 3-2 in a preliminary round game of the Sochi tournament.

The USA were heavily favoured to reach the final as they have 65,700 registered female players in the country compared to just over 3,000 for the Swedes. Canada has 87,000 players while the Swiss have just 908.

The lopsided scores in the Sochi tournament also underlines the continued lack of parity in the women's game between the top two countries and the other nations.

"Of course it can be a problem for the rest of the world that they (Canada and the USA) are so powerful. I think we should try to look up to them and try to improve our game," Boork said.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/140217/olympics-usa-canada-set-another-gold-medal-clash