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RIVALRY RENEWED

by Kevin Snow / Buffalo Sabres
(Getty Images)

Western New York-native Emily Pfalzer has represented the United States in several international hockey tournaments, putting her front and center for the heated rivalry games between the U.S. and Canada.

So how does Pfalzer describe the intensity of those games?

“It’s a bloodbath out there.”

The United States and Canada will write another chapter in their storied international hockey rivalry on Monday, January 5 when they’ll meet in their opening game of the 2015 IIHF Women’s U18 World Championship at HARBORCENTER.

The eighth-annual tournament features the top under-18 women’s hockey talent in the world, with Russia, Sweden, Finland, Czech Republic, Japan and Switzerland joining the United States and Canada on the schedule. Preliminary round games run from Jan. 5-8, followed by the single-elimination playoff games from Jan. 9-11. The bronze and gold medal games are set for January 12.

The United States and Canada have finished one-two in the previous seven tournaments, with Canada taking home the gold medal on four occasions – including the last three years.

Now a senior at Boston College, Pfalzer played for Team USA in the 2010 and 2011 U18 tournaments. After losing the gold medal game in OT in 2010, Pfalzer returned to capture gold in 2011 when the US defeated Canada in Sweden.

“Every game against Canada, whether it’s for a gold medal or in round-robin play, it doesn’t matter what the situation is,” says Pfalzer, a Nichols School grad who will be attending the Women’s National Team Camp next week in Minnesota. “It’s always the game you look forward to playing in the most.”

This year will mark the first time in tournament history the two teams will face each other in the preliminary round. The previous seven matchups all came in the gold medal game, with Canada holding a 4-3 advantage.

Three of the games have been decided by one goal, including back-to-back overtime decisions in 2010 (Canada 5-4) and 2009 (USA 3-2). Canada’s 5-1 win in last year’s tournament was the most lopsided of the seven results.

“The US-Canada rivalry is unmatched, and not just in women’s hockey,” says Reagan Carey, USA Hockey’s Director of Women’s Hockey. “No matter what level we’re playing, or what’s at stake, any game between US and Canada is a great game to watch, and a very exciting one for the players to take part in.”

The excitement and passion in these rivalry games also leads to a more physical contest, one that many casual observers of the women’s game don’t expect to see.

Pfalzer’s description of the games being a “bloodbath” may be a bit extreme, but they certainly take on an edge for both sides.

“It definitely turns out to be quite a physical game. Each team has so much pride in playing for their country, and they are elite athletes at the top of their game,” explains Carey. “Anytime you get to represent your country, no matter who you are playing, is a tremendous accomplishment. But to know that you get to go out there and battle your country’s long-time rival is an honor.

“There isn’t one player in that game that needs to be told how big that game is. It’s just a matter of trying to contain their excitement in those opening minutes.”

This is just the third time the U18 Women’s Championship will be played in North America. The United States won gold at the inaugural event in Calgary in 2008, and Canada got their revenge in overtime at the 2010 tournament in Chicago.

Pfalzer says she is admittedly jealous of the players who will get to play in front of a hometown crowd at HARBORCENTER, and knows the tremendous amount of pride that will be flowing through each skater when they hit the ice on January 5.

“Everytime I put the USA jersey on, whether it’s in practice or a game, it’s still an amazing feeling,” Pfalzer explains. “It’s just something you work even harder for in girls’ hockey because there’s no NHL for us.

“It’s always a dream to represent your country. I know that every girl in that room will be as honored and privileged as I am to put on a USA jersey and face Canada.”

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