U.S.-Canada women jab; Forsberg to miss opener

Updated: February 14, 2006, 7:22 PM ET
By Scott Burnside | ESPN.com

The American and Canadian women seem destined to meet for the third straight time in an Olympic gold-medal game, this one set for Feb. 20, but that hasn't stopped the two teams from sniping at each other well in advance of the expected showdown.

Top American player Angela Ruggiero was quoted on SI.com, saying she was upset the Canadian women were running up the score on their opponents.

Angela Ruggiero
Brian Bahr/Getty Images Angela Ruggiero said she thinks the Canadian women's team is running up the score.

The Canadian women scored 16 against the host Italians and 12 against the Russians before winning a "nail-biter" Tuesday afternoon, 8-1 against Sweden. It marked the first time in three games the Canadians had given up a goal.

The Canadians, predictably, were dismissive of Ruggiero's concerns.

Hayley Wickenheiser, considered the top female player in the world, pointed out that if teams are tied at the end of the round-robin portion of the tournament, goal differential is the tie-breaker. If that wasn't the case, Wickenheiser said they would probably start dumping the puck in and being less aggressive after scoring 10 goals against an opponent.

She also suggested it would be disrespectful to fans and their opponents if they stopped trying.

"I think it makes a mockery of the game when you sit back," Wickenheiser said. Still, she acknowledged that if she was watching the Americans doing the same thing, "I might wonder."

Head coach Melody Davidson said she expects her players to play hard for the entire game just as she expects the same from their opponents.

Stay tuned.

On the men's side ...

The Swedish Olympic picture continues to be out of focus. Peter Forsberg will not play in the first two games and may not play at all, although he and his tender groin did arrive in Italy on Tuesday.

Also troubling is the uncertainty surrounding the availability of Los Angeles Kings captain Mattias Norstrom, who missed the Kings' last game before the Olympic break with concussion symptoms. If he is unable to play it would be a huge blow to a team that is already missing talented Vancouver captain Markus Naslund and defensemen Kim Johnsson and Niklas Kronwall.

Not many people give the Americans much of a shot to win a medal of any form, let alone a gold. It doesn't seem to bother coach Peter Laviolette all that much.

"Somebody has to be the favorite, somebody has to be picked to win the bronze and somebody has to be picked to finish seventh. There's a lot of talk about us. Not in those first two categories, but in the third. To me, that's irrelevant," Laviolette said Tuesday night.

The Americans open the tournament Wednesday evening against Latvia. Full disclosure: This writer picked the Americans to earn a bronze medal.

In the nets

John Grahame will get the start in goal for the United States against Latvia with Rick DiPietro acting as a back-up. Robert Esche will not dress.

For Canada, coach Pat Quinn said Martin Brodeur will start in goal for their early-afternoon tilt against host Italy. Someone suggested it might have been nice if back-up Roberto Luongo got the start given his Italian heritage.

"I don't know if he's Italian or French," Quinn said of the Montreal-born Luongo. "Maybe we would have started him against the French team."

For the record, France does not have a team in the Olympics.

Wealth of experience

Todd Bertuzzi would likely have faced more difficult questions regarding his presence on the Canadian team had it not been for the Gretzky situation. Nonetheless, the big forward was quite candid about what he hopes to take away from his first Olympic experience.

"I've never won anything, so I think if I can get that taste in my mouth and get that feeling and see what it takes to accomplish something like that through the guys like Joe Sakic, the Blakes and the Footes, guys who won things and accomplished stuff, I think that would be something that I could probably take it back to help [the Canucks]," Bertuzzi said.

Scott Burnside is an NHL writer for ESPN.com.