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The NHL decided to pass on the Winter Olympics. It's the first time the league hasn't sent its stars — and shut down for almost three weeks — to play for gold, silver and bronze since 1998.

That leaves the Olympics men's ice hockey competition filled with a bunch of college kids, career minor leaguers and former NHL players.


Yet there is still plenty of drama on the ice in Pyeongchang even if it doesn't include the likes of Kane, Crosby or McDavid. Throw in a simmering rivalry that has the edge of the Cubs-Cardinals, and this could be the highlight of the second week of coverage.

The United States figures to face Canada in the women's ice hockey gold medal game at 10 p.m. Wednesday (NBCSN). If this is anything like their last two games in the Olympics, it will be worth staying up late to see.

These countries are universes ahead of everyone else in women's hockey. The U.S. won the first Olympic gold in 1998, while Canada has captured the last four. The only time the Canadians didn't beat the Americans in the gold medal game was 2006 after Sweden upset the U.S. in the semis.

Four years ago in Sochi, Canada downed the U.S., 3-2 in overtime, for the gold. They squared off again this past week in a preliminary game that was basically meaningless, with both already assured a berth in the semifinals.

That didn't matter.

These teams don't like each other — and it showed. The U.S. peppered Canada goalie Genevieve Lacasse with 45 shots. But the Canadians edged the Americans, 2-1, with a last-second U.S. charge at the net turned back as the teams exchanged pushes and shoves that made this seem like the Blackhawks and Blues were going at it.

The rematch should be even more testy with a gold medal at stake.

The NHL made a mistake in skipping the Olympics. Thankfully, the U.S. and Canada women made sure hockey is still worth watching from South Korea.   

College BB: Villanova at Xavier (Fox, 3:30 p.m. Saturday): With the NCAA Tournament quickly approaching, might be time to take a look at Xavier as a legitimate title contender. 

NASCAR: Daytona 500 (Fox, 1:30 p.m. Sunday): Not having someone named Dale Earnhardt in this race sounds strange. Martin Truex Jr. only finished 13th a year ago, but went on to win the overall season title. 

NBA: All-Star Game (TNT, 7 p.m. Sunday): Not the East vs. West, but Team LeBron vs. Team Stephen as the league's marquee stars serve as captains and pick their squads. Defense, though, will be strictly optional.

Contact Jim Benson at


Sports Writer

Sports Writer for The Pantagraph.

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