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Rivalry Series continues important month for women's hockey

Three-game set between United States, Canada latest event to shine spotlight on female players

by Shawn Roarke @sroarke_nhl / Senior Director of Editorial

One of international hockey's fiercest rivalries will resume Tuesday when the women's teams from the United States and Canada meet in the first of the three-game 2019 Rivalry Series this week.

"Those are going to be very awesome opportunities," Canada defenseman Renata Fast said. "It's great for the sport altogether but it's also great for Hockey Canada and USA Hockey. It's another chance for both to see the depth in their individual programs. 

"Also, when Canada and the U.S. play each other, it develops us as players. The Americans, they're fast, they're skilled -- we have to be at the top of our game."

The first game is sold out at Budweiser Gardens in London, Ontario on Tuesday (7 p.m. ET.). The second game will be played at Scotiabank Arena, the home of the Toronto Maple Leafs, on Thursday (7 p.m. ET.). The final game is at Little Caesars Arena, home of the Detroit Red Wings, on Sunday (noon ET), as part of the celebration of Hockey Weekend Across America. All games will be broadcast on NHL Network in the United States and TSN and RDS in Canada.

United States forward Brianna Decker says playing in NHL arenas is a big deal for each team, especially with the next winter Olympics three years away.

Video: Coyne, Decker discuss 2019 All-Star experiences

"I think we usually get a little more attention in Olympic years, but I think it is important that we are able to be in these NHL venues in non-Olympic years," she said. "Obviously, our goal is to sell these building out like the guys do. Are we going to do it this time? Probably not. It's a goal for us to have that at some point in our careers and we are looking forward to getting that started this year."

The game in Detroit is almost a year to the day when the United States defeated Canada 3-2 in a shootout in the gold-medal game of the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics on Feb. 22. It was the first Olympic gold for the Americans since the Nagano Olympics in 1998, the first winter games to include women's hockey. Canada won the next four tournaments between 1998 and 2018, defeating the United States in the gold-medal game three times. The U.S. won bronze in 2006. 

"We have been pushing for more games in general and more games against Canada because I think the fans enjoy it," Decker said. "For the young girls, it's important for them to see our game at the highest level, so we are looking forward to this series. It will be good for the fans to come out and watch.

"Any time we can play Canada, any time you can put on the U.S. uniform or they can put on their Canada uniform, it's always fun to be out there. Those are the best games and we live for those."

Fast says that payback is on the mind of the Canadian players, who are still smarting from the Olympic disappointment.

"I think coming off the Olympics too, this is a great opportunity to have a series like this and to continue the excitement of women's hockey," she said. "We talked about the lull after the Olympics, but I think this should bring excitement right back up."

It has been an eventful month for women's hockey. 

Decker and Fast were among four women players to take part in the 2019 SAP NHL Skills at the 2019 Honda NHL All-Star Weekend. They were joined by Kendell Coyne Schofield from the United States and Canada's Rebecca Johnston to demo various events in the skills competition. 

Video: Fastest Skater: Coyne Schofield sets the pace

Coyne Schofield was a last-minute replacement in the Bridgestone NHL Fastest Skater for Colorado Avalanche forward Nathan MacKinnon, who did not participate in on-ice activities because of a bruised foot.

She finished in 14.346, less than a second behind three-time winner Connor McDavid (13.378) of the Edmonton Oilers.

This past weekend, the National Women's Hockey League held its All-Star Game at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville. The crowd of 6,120 was a record for women's professional hockey in the United States. 

Now, the national teams from Canada and the United States will do their part to keep the momentum going.

But, just as importantly, they are ready to resume the rivalry that has dominated women's international hockey for the past two decades.

"Once that jersey is on and we are on the ice and inside of the rink, it is how it is, you click back into it," Decker said. "It's U.S. vs. Canada." staff writer Mike Zeisberger contributed to this report

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