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The American women's hockey team tomorrow meets its archrival, Canada, on the ice in Sochi at the Winter Olympics. It's an early round game, but when it comes to these two teams, there's no such thing as a low stakes match. NPR's Tamara Keith introduces us to both teams, which are expected to make it all the way to the gold medal game.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: When the Canadian and American teams meet on the ice, things get heated.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPORTS BROADCAST)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: And now tempers really getting short as Hilary Knight didn't like what the Canadian player was doing to her goal tender.

KEITH: This is from NBC's broadcast of a match between the two teams in late December that turned into a brawl.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPORTS BROADCAST)

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Look at the refs trying to pull them off each other.

KEITH: They also got into a fight in October and those fights turned women's hockey into a bit of an Internet sensation.

BRIANNE JENNER: I think it's not as rare as people think. It's just not always caught on video.

KEITH: Brianne Jenner is a Canadian forward.

JENNER: That's just kind of what happens when you're in an intense hockey game. I think, you know, it was just part of a hockey game and I think it's good that you can, you know, so many people are interested, at least.

KEITH: These fights come up a lot, like probably in every single interview these women have done since arriving in Sochi. And the athletes seem conflicted. Yes, the fights happened. No, it's not all that common. They are neither embarrassed nor proud, but yes, it could happen again. Lyndsey Fry is an American forward.

LYNDSEY FRY: Pretty much everyone I've ever talked that's never seen a women's game before, even in college, they'll leave and be like so impressed, you know, and it's like, well, yeah, maybe you should've come out a lot sooner. But you know, there's all the media coverage of the fight or whatever and it's like that's not really what women's hockey is all about, but if it gets people watching, they're gonna fall in love with the sport.

KEITH: What is it about this rivalry that makes it so intense? Two things. They play each other all the time, and when it comes to women's hockey, America and Canada are in a league all their own. Both teams are coming into tomorrow's game undefeated and those games weren't even close. Take the one yesterday between the U.S. and Switzerland.

In a matter of 55 seconds, Team USA scored three goals, an American Olympic record. There were only eight seconds between the second goal and the third. The celebratory music hadn't even stopped playing before they scored again. Amanda Kessel scored two of the goals.

AMANDA KESSEL: When you score so many quickly, it just knocks the wind out of the other teams.

KEITH: Kessel, whose brother plays in the NHL, spoke after the game that ended with a score of 9-0.

KESSEL: You just have to get back up on your feet. You just kind of keep pounding them and keep pounding them and I think that's what really did it to them.

KEITH: If history is any guide, the Canada game will be a whole lot closer, and when it comes to these two teams, there's plenty of history. They met seven times in three months last year. Jayna Hefford has played for Team Canada since the 1998 Olympics in Nagano. She says it is one of the best rivalries in sport.

JAYNA HEFFORD: It's intense and it's the games you want to play in as an athlete, and I think as a fan those are the games that people love to watch. So, you know, it's the best game to be in, for sure.

KEITH: And a lot of people will be watching this time to see whether they throw off their gloves and fight again. Tamara Keith, NPR News, Sochi.

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