The stage was set before the membership of the two teams was even named and now the formality is out of the way, as Canada will face the United States in the Gold Medal game of the 2014 women's ice hockey tournament at the Sochi Olympics.
The Canadians earned a spot in the championship round with a victory against Switzerland on Monday, 3-1. While it's no surprise that Canada advanced to it's fifth-consecutive Gold Medal game, Monday's contest displayed an unexpected performance from the Swiss. Switzerland's goaltender Florence Schelling emerged as a star after registering 45 saves on 48 shots, which included 32 consecutive saves in the final 40 minutes of play.
It appeared as though Canada was going to run away with the contest after scoring three goals over the span of four minutes in the first period. However, Schelling and the Swiss defense shutdown one of the world's best women's hockey teams for the remainder of the game. While it proved to be a moral victory, the Swiss will still have an opportunity to win its first medal in women's ice hockey, as the club challenges Sweden for the bronze on Thursday.
Canada's Natalie Spooner opened the scoring for Canada at the 7:29 mark of the first period and followed up the tally a few minutes later to establish a 2-0 lead. It ultimately proved to be enough offense to propel the Canadians to the championship round, but Melodie Daoust completed the team's first period flurry of offense with a strike 23 seconds after Spooner's second goal.
Switzerland's lone tally came on a second period power play, which involved the team aggressively attacking the Canadian goal. Shannon Szabados, Canada's goaltender, appeared to have the puck covered but the Swiss jarred it loose and the referee didn't stop play, which allowed Jessica Lutz to pull Switzerland within two. It was ultimately as close as the club would get.
Szabados' performance will likely be overshadowed by Schelling, but the Canadian keeper substituted quantity for quality in the character of her saves. Switzerland had several prime opportunities to pull the game closer, but couldn't solve Szabados. She finished the contest with 21 saves on 22 registered shots on goal.
This will mark the fourth time that Canada and the United States will meet in the Gold Medal game of the Winter Olympics. Canada has participated in every championship game since women's ice hockey was added to the Olympic roster in 1998, which was the only time Canada didn't walk away with gold. The United States won the inaugural women's gold medal, but earned silver in 2002 and 2010 in addition to bronze in 2006.
Canada will look to earn it's fourth-consecutive gold Medal on Thursday.