U.S., Canada meet in early Olympic showdown among world’s best

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GANGNEUNG, South Korea (AP) — Much more than bragging rights are on the line anytime the Americans and Canadians meet, and the Olympics offers the opportunity to showcase just how good the best in women’s hockey really are these days.

No medal will be on the line Thursday. Just the top spot in the best group in pool play along with the choice of jersey color and benches for the next time they play – ideally the gold medal game.

Only gold will do for the United States at the Pyeongchang Games with the Americans mired in a 20-year title drought. And this will be the first time the Americans have played their biggest rival in the Olympics since Canada stunned the United States by rallying from a 2-0 deficit to win gold at the 2014 Sochi Games with a 3-2 overtime victory.

Yes, the Americans have been waiting for this moment since the final horn blew in 2014.

”We’ve been preparing for this tournament for four years,” said Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson, a three-time Olympian. ”The first two games we’re pretty happy with how they went. Definitely some things we can continue to get better at, but hopefully build on each and every game and be at our best when it matters.”

That game is Feb. 22 when the gold medal will be up for grabs.

For now, the Canadians and Americans know millions will be watching a game scheduled for just after noon in South Korea to allow North Americans the chance to watch some late night hockey on Valentine’s Day.

Canada forward Jillian Saulnier said they try to represent the best of women’s hockey anytime they step on the ice. The Olympics only raises the stakes.

”The world is watching, so for us it’s just a time to showcase our talents and skills so to be able to play against some of the best players in the world,” Saulnier said. ”And some of those are on the U.S. as well, so it’s an exciting time for us.”

These teams know each other very well thanks to a pre-Olympic exhibition schedule of eight games that included the Four Nations Cup. The United States won three of the first four, including two to win the Four Nations Cup title. But Canada won the final four games in December with two each in Canada and in the United States.

Canada captain Marie-Philip Poulin, who scored the tying and game-winning goals in the gold medal game in Sochi, noted they haven’t played since Canada finalized its Olympic roster.

”So obviously it’s going to be a big change for both of the teams,” Poulin said. ”So excited to play. It doesn’t matter what happened before.”

Even though the United States won the inaugural gold at the 1998 Nagano Games when women’s hockey debuted at the Olympics, Canada has won each of the past four, and the Canadians are in South Korea looking to add the only medal their country expects when playing the sport they created.

United States defenseman Kacey Bellamy is playing in her third Olympics and called U.S.-Canada a ”great rivalry.”

”Honestly, it’s exciting anytime we play them,” Bellamy said. ”We’re going to give 100 percent. We have a lot of respect for each other. Once we hit the ice, it’s going to be a fun game. It’s going to be fast, and we’re excited.”

Canada stands at the top of Group A, despite both teams being 2-0, thanks to having scored one more goal (nine) than the Americans (eight). Both teams have allowed one goal apiece – both to Finland. Canada beat Finland by 4-1 compared to the Americans’ 3-1 win to open preliminary play.

The Americans canceled practice Wednesday after beating the Russians 5-0 late Tuesday night. The Canadians practiced after their win over Finland.

U.S. coach Robb Stauber has tried to keep his players focused on only one opponent at a time, trying to ignore the inevitable game with Canada until a day away.

”We know we have the next game,” Stauber said. ”We know that opponent very well.”

More AP Olympic coverage: https://wintergames.ap.org

Canucks’ Ilya Mikheyev to have season-ending knee surgery

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VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Vancouver Canucks right wing Ilya Mikheyev is set to have season-ending surgery on his left knee.

Canucks general manager Patrik Allvin said Friday night the 28-year-old Russian forward tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in the team’s first preseason game Sept. 25. Mikheyev will undergo surgery next week and is expected to be ready for training camp in the fall.

Mikheyev was originally listed as week-to-week with the injury and played 45 regular-season games, finishing with 13 goals and 15 assists. He scored in his final appearance Friday night, a 5-2 home victory over Columbus.

Mikheyev signed a four-year, $19 million contract as a free agent last summer.

Maple Leafs’ Matthews out at least 3 weeks with knee injury

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Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews will miss at least three weeks with a sprained knee.

The team announced the reigning MVP’s anticipated absence Friday, two days after Matthews was injured in Toronto’s victory against the New York Rangers.

Matthews is expected to miss at least six games and could be out for a few more. The timing of the injury coinciding with the NHL All-Star break and the Maple Leafs bye week prevents this from costing Matthews more time out of the lineup.

After being voted an All-Star by fans, Matthews is now out of the event scheduled for Feb. 3-4 in Sunrise, Florida. The league announced Aleskander Barkov from the host Florida Panthers will take Matthews’ place on the Atlantic Division All-Star roster.

Matthews, who won the Hart Trophy last season after leading the NHL with 60 goals, has 53 points in 47 games this season.

Caufield opted for surgery with Habs out of playoff race

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MONTREAL — Montreal Canadiens winger Cole Caufield said Friday he wouldn’t be having season-ending surgery on his right shoulder if the team were in playoff contention.

But with the Canadiens near the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings, the 22-year-old Caufield said he decided to have the surgery to protect his long-term health. The procedure is scheduled to be performed by Dr. Peter Millett on Wednesday.

“I didn’t want to stop playing,” Caufield said. “I had a couple tests done to look at it more clearly but, in the end, like it could’ve been one more fall and it could have been even worse.”

Caufield, who leads the Canadiens with 26 goals in 46 games, had three different medical opinions on his shoulder before concluding that his season was over.

“I think they’ve seen a lot more than I have and they know the differences and what they like or don’t like about it,” he said about the medical opinions. “Long term, I think this is what’s best but for sure it was tough to sit out that game against Toronto on Saturday night.”

Caufield initially felt the injury in an awkward fall during Montreal’s 4-2 loss at Dallas on Dec. 23. He said his right shoulder popped, and he replaced it himself.

Caufield felt it again in the Habs’ 4-3 loss at Nashville on Jan. 12. The club announced on Jan. 21 that Caufield would miss the rest of the season.

Caufield is nearing the end of his three-year, entry-level contract and will be a restricted free agent this summer.

All-Star Matty Beniers to miss next 2 games for Kraken

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SEATTLE — Seattle Kraken rookie All-Star Matty Beniers will miss the team’s final two games before the All-Star break after taking a big hit from Vancouver’s Tyler Myers earlier this week.

Seattle coach Dave Hakstol said after morning skate Friday that Beniers would not play Friday night against Calgary or Saturday against Columbus. Hakstol did not speculate on Beniers’ availability for next weekend’s All-Star Game in Florida.

The team has not specified what kind of injury Beniers sustained from the hit. He was barreled over by Myers away from the play early in the second period in Wednesday’s 6-1 victory over Vancouver. Myers was penalized for interference on the play. Beniers returned briefly for one shift later in the period but did not play in the third period.

Beniers is Seattle’s lone All-Star selection this season. He leads all rookies in goals (17) and points (36), and is fifth in total ice time for rookies.

Seattle also placed defenseman Justin Schultz on injured reserve and recalled forward Max McCormick from Coachella Valley of the AHL. Hakstol said Schultz is improving but there’s no timeline on his return.