USA-Canada rivalry is intense

July 22, 2006

For years, Team USA’s Kerry Weiland has been part of the rivalry between her national team and the best women’s players from Canada. So she wasn’t surprised by the teams’ chippy, tense inline hockey world championship game Saturday afternoon at the Taylor Sportsplex.

During the second period, members of the two women’s teams filled each other’s ears with trash talk and eventually got into a skirmish. Then, the game ended with players from both teams involved in a melee. The men’s semifinal game between USA and Canada the night before ended the same way.

Weiland is a former member of the U.S. women’s national ice hockey team, an All-America defenseman at the University of Wisconsin and a roller hockey veteran, having played on the gold-medal-winning USA team in 2003 and the silver-medal team of 2004

Weiland told her inline teammates, “Girls, there’s nothing better than beating Canada. It doesn’t matter what sport you’re in. This is a big rivalry. It’s a beautiful rivalry. They have great players. We have great players. To play on that stage and win is the most exciting thing.”

Canada’s women’s team won the world championship in 2004 and 2005 and was the favorite heading into Saturday’s finale in the tournament organized by International Federation of Roller Sports (FIRS). But Team USA won the game, the championship and the gold medal, 2-1.

The USA men’s team eliminated Canada’s chances for a gold medal with a 6-4 victory before 2,500 fans on Friday night, then went on to win the gold with a 4-2 win over the Czech Republic on Saturday.

Weiland, a native of Palmer, Alaska, and the daughter of Grand Rapids native Teresa Weiland, has faced Canadian teams in countless situations – most of them with a prize on the line. She also played pro hockey for the Brampton Thunder of the National Women’s Hockey League, so she has Canadian ties.

Team Canada Assistant Coach Donna Forbes said that so many of the women and men are often rivals one week and teammates the next, so the heated competition stays on the ice.

In fact, Forbes, who played four years of inline hockey for Canada, said she and Team USA’s Joy Woog Garvey are such good friends that Forbes was in Garvey’s wedding party last August.

Forbes said that the fight at the end of the women’s championship game was partly out of frustration and partly because the Canadian players felt some of the U.S. players were celebrating and “rubbing it in our faces.”

“It did get little out of hand,” she admitted. “It’s a world class event. You want to make sure you’re playing classy.”

USA’s Lauren McAuliffe, a former captain at Harvard, said: “It’s only my second year with the team, but it’s obviously a long-time thing between U.S. and Canada. It’s always a very heated rivalry. We respect that team very much and I think they respect us the same. I think a lot of times it comes down to the two of us and to beat them is awesome. It’s pretty much what we all work for all year long.”

USA men’s Coach Robert Chornomud, who said it was the first time he’s seen fighting in a championship of a women’s tournament, said the current rivalry between his team and Canada goes back to last year’s world Games in Germany. After Canada won a round-robin game over the United States, the Americans took a 5-0 lead in the second period of the gold medal game.

“I think frustrations got the better of them and we had a brawl – a full blown-out ice hockey crazy brawl,” Chornomud said. “For the most part, there are still a lot of ill feelings… There’s still some animosity on the red, black and white. You hate to see it, but at the same time you can’t let it all go, I guess you could say.”

Off the floor, relations are civil.

“Once it’s over, it’s over,” he said. “For the most part, everybody understands what you do on the floor is on the floor. This is a game where there’s a lot of crossover friends. Players have played together on other teams. They come together to play for their country pride.”