Canada looks to shed underdogs tag

Thu Feb 6, 2014 9:48am EST
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By Frank Pingue

SOCHI, Russia (Reuters) - Canada's women's ice hockey team have triumphed at the last three Olympics but are being considered underdogs by many going into the Sochi Games given recent struggles against the rival United States.

After losing the last four of six pre-Olympic exhibition games against the U.S., the Canadian squad has plenty to prove when they start the defense of their gold medal on Saturday against Switzerland.

"Each Games is different and brings its own challenges," Canadian forward Gillian Apps, who won gold medals with Canada at the 2006 Turin and 2010 Vancouver Games, told reporters.

"We're coming off a great performance in Vancouver and we have come here to try and defend the gold medal. And with that comes its own added pressure but it's something that I think anyone in the tournament is looking to do."

In a bid to increase the competitiveness of the tournament the top teams - United States, Canada, Finland and Switzerland - were placed in the same group, meaning one could reach the quarter-finals without winning a game.

The new format also means Canada, who blitzed opponents en route to the gold medal at the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver, will face the United States in a much-anticipated February 12 qualifying game expected to be intense given the two brawls between the two nations in recent exhibition play.

But head coach Kevin Dineen refused to look past the team's opening game.

"I am worried about Switzerland, I can't lie," Dineen told reporters. "I would love to say we are going to go out and put a beating on Switzerland but I am not seeing it."   Continued...

Canada's Shannon Szabados (L) and Gillian Apps celebrate after defeating Russia in their semi-final game at the IIHF Ice Hockey Women's World Championship in Ottawa April 8, 2013 file photo. REUTERS/Chris Wattie