Winter Olympics 2014 hockey schedule: USA vs. Canada women take spotlight from men

Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

Sure, men's hockey gets started on Wednesday. That's great. But the real treat on the schedule is a battle between the worlds two best women's teams, the United States and Canada.

SB Nation 2014 Olympics Preview

It's the biggest day of hockey yet at the 2014 Winter Olympics, as men's hockey begins with two games in the middle of the afternoon Eastern time on Wednesday.

But that'll just be dessert: Wednesday's entree is the highly-anticipated showdown between the two best women's hockey teams in the world, the United States national team and the Canadian national team.

Here's a full rundown of Wednesday's Olympic hockey action, both the women and men:

Schedule

3 a.m. ET: Women, Switzerland vs. Finland (MSNBC, TSN 2)
7:30 a.m. ET: Women, USA vs. Canada (NBCSN, CBC)
12 p.m. ET: Men, Czech Republic vs. Sweden (USA Network, Sportsnet 1)
12 p.m. ET: Men, Latvia vs. Switzerland (MSNBC, no Canadian TV)

All games are live streamed online via NBC and CBC.

USA, Canada renew rivalry in women's hockey

The United States and Canada are, in all likelihood, going to play each other in the gold medal game. Consider Wednesday's meeting, the final game in preliminary round play, a preview.

These teams play side-by-side all year, both on professional teams in New England and Canada as well as in the NCAA ranks. The rest of the world doesn't give them much competition, and as a result, they get pretty close, and when the national jerseys are pulled over the pads, it doesn't take long for the hatred to come out.

During their pre-Olympic tune up tour, the teams brawled twice, once in October and once in December. Canada won the first three meetings between the teams on that stretch of games that included a series of exhibitions and the annual Four Nations Cup. The Americans picked up wins in the last four meetings, however, including a big 4-1 win in that brawl game on Dec. 20.

The No. 1 seed is on the line Wednesday as these teams prepare to enter the playoff round. Both teams beat the expected No. 3 seed, Finland, in group play, but with Finnish goalie Noora Raty capable of stealing a game -- as she almost did against Canada on Monday -- and such a wide gap between the Finns and the No. 4 seed (likely Sweden), an easier road will fall upon the North American powerhouse that can pull out a win on Wednesday morning in Sochi.

Group play ends for the women on Thursday. The playoff round begins Saturday.

Men's hockey finally gets started

The United States and Canada will not be in men's action until Thursday, but two games kick off preliminary round play.

Sweden, the early favorite in the tournament back in Jan., has suffered some key injuries over the last few weeks, but they still figure to be in contention for a medal, if not gold. They'll face a Czech team SB Nation ranked fifth in our final Olympic rankings, led by captain Tomas Plekanec and the ageless Jaromir Jagr. Goalie Ondrej Pavelec, of the NHL's Winnipeg Jets, will be a healthy scratch as one of Jakub Kovar or Alexander Salak will get the start.

Latvia and Switzerland will not be in the medal conversation, but many do peg the Swiss as a team that could catch a medal contender off guard in the preliminary round. Latvia doesn't have much NHL talent on their roster and should finish towards the bottom of the tournament pool, if not at the absolute bottom.

More on the Winter Olympics:

SB Nation's Winter Olympics medal tracker | Meet Team USA

Team Canada's beer fridge only opens with passport | #Lookit

What you need to know about curling | Bobsled, luge and skeleton

Miracle Put on Ice: 1984 US hockey team never had a chance

Hockey: Men’s schedule | All 12 men’s rosters | USA roster analysis

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