SOCHI, Russia -- Somebody is about to hurt, wince, suffer, lament, wonder, possibly cry and maybe even lie awake for one night or two or several, beginning next Thursday. It might be the Americans. It might be the Canadians. It's going to be somebody.
That's the risk in the Olympic rivalry of longest standing. That's the risk as the rivalry finished Sochi Chapter 1 on Wednesday and aimed toward Sochi Chapter 2 next Thursday. It's the risk elite athletes and coaches take when they gather up all their years of toil and hope and bring them to an arena. It's the risk that might be the most respectable thing about them.
In the case of the United States and Canada and women and hockey, those who end up suffering probably will have submitted to the jurisdiction of bounces. Seemingly every other player talks about how it comes down to bounces with these two. Pucks might not bounce, per se, but everybody grasps the wider meaning of "bounce" in sports. Among two towering rivals so tightly matched, the bounces here and there will decide whether anything actually bounces or not.
During a to-and-fro hockey fracas in the preliminary round inside little Shayba Arena on Wednesday, the bounces weren't so heavy this time. The match had no real tournament meaning. The bounces did, however, make their promise. They put on a little demo of what they're capable of doing once the very, very probable rematch promises a gold medal to whomever they like more that time.
What beautiful lunacy.
For a pivotal moment in Canada's 3-2 win, there came a "bounce" in sports terms that wasn't really a bounce but sort of a wiggle. Canada's Hayley Wickenheiser, the flag-bearer in the Opening Ceremony, came barreling in on the right wing for a shot. U.S. goalie Jessie Vetter saved it and covered it but didn't finish covering it and had it slide back into the goal.
Sometime during this sub-picturesque bit of hockey, a referee blew a whistle. The Americans thought it came before the puck finished its trickle. There was a delay so officials could review. They reviewed and found that Canada had scored to lead 2-1. Some groaned.
"I did think the whistle blew before," U.S. head coach Katey Stone said. "I did. I did hear the whistle blow before the puck went in." Yet she told the players during the delay, "Regardless of what happens, let's be ready," and she said admirably and accurately, "We had a lot of time left in the game at that point so I'm not going to hang my hat on that one. I think we can play better."
She, of course, has taken her glittering career coaching at Harvard, brought it to the helm of the U.S. team, and hurled it into this U.S.-Canada tightness. There's the thrill and obsession of competing, and there's the risk. Canada has won three straight Olympic gold medals; it beat the United States 3-2 in 2002 and 2-0 in 2010 in gold-medal matches. The United States has won four of the last five world championships, including the one in 2013 in Ottawa where Canada won 3-2 in a shootout during the preliminary round, and the U.S. won 3-2 on Amanda Kessel's third-period goal in the final.
Those were bastions of bounces for two sides which, in the 15 world championships the sport has held, have met in the final merely 15 times. Recent scores include Canada winning 5-4 in overtime in 2012, the U.S. winning 3-2 in overtime in 2011 and the U.S. winning 4-3 in 2008 before the utter rout of 2009 (4-1).
Combing through the rivalries in his head, Canada coach Kevin Dineen, who played for five NHL franchises and coached one, brought up a term you don't hear too often: "Hartford Whalers." He mentioned old Whalers-Bruins games, Ohio State-Michigan from when he lived in Columbus, the Yankees and Red Sox. Then, having coached Canada since only Dec. 17, he called this rivalry "the real deal" and said, "You always hear they don't like each other, I don't buy that. I think there's mutual respect there and sometimes to be real good, you have to have a great foil and I think the United States has been a great measuring stick."
Measurement -- or "another snapshot," as Dineen calls it -- figures to come next week. So do all the talent and preparation and work and bounces. "There's a lot of emotion on the ice but sometimes it gets really chippy but I don't think you saw much of that today," Canada goalie Charline Labonte said, "probably because it's not a gold-medal match."
As long as they surpass their semifinals, that will be a gold-medal match, so next week they and we will all reconvene and wait to see what happens with the bounces. We are all, of course, half-mad.