Winter Olympics 2014 hockey schedule: USA, Canada women kick things off

Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sport

The USA takes on Finland and Canada faces Switzerland in the first women's hockey action of the 2014 Winter Olympics.

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If all goes according to plan, the United States and Canada will meet in the women's ice hockey gold medal game on Feb. 20. It all begins for the two North American neighbors early Saturday morning as they kick off preliminary round Group A action at the 2014 Winter Olympics.

USA vs. Finland, 3 a.m. ET

TV: NBCSN in the USA, Sportsnet in Canada

The United States gets things going at 3 a.m. ET, taking on Finland in the first game of the 2014 tournament. The Americans are coming off a silver medal in 2010 in Vancouver, but  despite objectively standing as one of the two best women's hockey nations in the world, they haven't won gold since 1998 in Nagano.

That eats at the Americans, who know they've been deserving of gold several times since Nagano. 10 players will be playing in their first Olympic action on Saturday, and they join a team that's 18-0-1-2 all-time at the Olympic Games. It's also a team that's outscored opponents 33-1 in Olympic opening games.

The Finns, bronze medallists in Vancouver, don't expect a blowout. Back in November at the Four Nations Cup in Lake Placid, Finland shocked the USA in a 3-1 win. They were led by 58 saves from Noora Raty, a former Minnesota Golden Gopher and NCAA national champion, who will be between the pipes Saturday in Sochi. They'll likely need a similarly dominant goaltending performance if they want to pull this one out as well.

The USA beat Finland 6-0 during their only meeting in Vancouver.

Canada vs. Switzerland, 8 a.m. ET

TV: NBCSN in the USA, CBC in Canada

The USA won gold in Nagano. Canada has won gold every other time women's hockey has been played at the Winter Olympics: 2002 in Salt Lake City, 2006 in Torino and 2010 on home ice in Vancouver.

Coached by former Florida Panthers bench boss Kevin Dineen, Canada sees themselves as underdogs in Sochi to the Americans after losing four straight in an exhibition series against their rival at the end of 2013. That doesn't matter in the opener, though, as they'll take on a Swiss team that's never finished higher than fifth in the Olympics. It should be a relatively easy day at the rink for Canada as their gold medal defense begins.

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The U.S. and Canada outscored opponents 86-4 before the gold medal final in Vancouver in 2010, and the sport was put on notice by the IOC following those games. They've changed the tournament format as a result, and the top nations in the world are all in the same Group A in Sochi. Finland might be able to hang with the USA and Canada, at least to a certain extent. Can the Swiss? Well, we'll begin to find out on Saturday.

Russia, Sweden, Japan and Germany make up Group B and will begin play on Sunday.

More on the Winter Olympics:

Meet Team USA's brightest Winter Olympic athletes

Introducing the Indoor Olympics

Jon Bois: A collection of complete lies about the Olympics

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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