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National team rivalries beyond the US, Canada

Two National Team players from Europe chime in with who they think they’re biggest rival country is.

Ice Hockey - Winter Olympics Day 8 Photo by Kyung Hoon Kim - Pool/Getty Images

For many, women’s hockey is defined by the epic rivalry between Team USA and Team Canada. However, there are significant rivalries at every level of women’s hockey — including some frequently overlooked international rivalries — that serve as threads to the ever-expanding tapestry of the sport.

Recently, The Ice Garden reached out to defender Lenka Čurmová of the Buffalo Beauts and Team Slovakia to hear her thoughts on her home country’s biggest hockey rival. One might suspect that Slovakia’s biggest hockey rival would be the Czech Republic, but, apparently, that is not the case.

“I would say that right now it is Hungary and Austria,” Čurmová said. “Games against these teams are always interesting and you can feel the tension in the arena when we’re playing against each other.”

Hungary and Austria competed against Slovakia at the 2018 and 2019 IIHF Worlds Division I (Group A). At the 2019 Worlds, Slovakia brought both rivals to overtime and handed Hungary its only loss of the tournament on Apr. 8, 2019 in a shootout victory.

Čurmová believes geography plays a role in international hockey rivalries, “(These rivalries) are just a couple years old and it’s probably because those are countries that are our neighbors.” But it appears that these lasting bonds between competing programs are primarily forged in major tournaments and they seem to burn brightest when there’s also history at the U-18 level.

Of course, some international rivalries have rich histories stretching back to the earliest days of the Worlds and the 1998 Olympics in Nagano. Such is the case with the on-the-ice feud between Sweden and Finland. To get a better idea of what that rivalry looks like from the inside, we reached out to Lovisa Selander of the Boston Pride and Team Sweden.

“I think one of the biggest rivalries for Sweden in ice hockey is Finland, both on the men’s and women’s side,” said Selander. “Growing up I loved watching Sweden and Finland play. In general, whenever Sweden plays another Scandinavian country in any sport we always want to win.”

But Sweden’s rivalries don’t stop at the Finnish border. As is the case with Slovakia, Sweden’s hockey rivals have been shaped by tournaments. “I think I’d classify the 4 Nations tournament with Finland, Canada, and USA as a pretty good rivalry. The goal is to compete for medals so it’s always fun to play the top nations in the world and see how you measure up.”

Unfortunately for the Swedes, they were relegated to Division 1A along with France as a result of finishing ninth at the 2019 IIHF Women’s World Championship. The rivalries with Finland, Canada, and the U.S. aren’t going anywhere — there’s too much history. But Selander has her eyes on a potential new rival in Norway, currently ranked 13th by the IIHF. Sweden has three times more registered female players and twice the population of Norway. All signs point to this being a showdown worth keeping an eye on.