- Associated Press - Monday, February 10, 2014

SOCHI, Russia (AP) - The announcer in the Shayba Arena was trying to pump up the crowd between periods of yet another Olympic women’s hockey mismatch, though her heart didn’t really seem to be in it.

“It’s 5-0,” she yelled in a voice that echoed across the ice. “But you never know what is going to happen.”

Actually, in women’s hockey you usually do. The script is a familiar one for anyone who has watched the sport, and nobody is going to deviate from it at the Olympics.

The two most powerful teams in the sport will beat everyone put in front of them. Most of those games - save for the ones in this Olympics against Finland - will be lopsided routs, the outcome determined from the moment the teams take center ice.

And the U.S. and Canada will play for Olympic gold.

Nearly two decades after women’s hockey made its Olympic debut in Nagano, the sport remains stuck in a rut. The names of the countries that fill up the eight-team tournament differ slightly every four years, but the ones at the top never seem to change.

The only drama Monday when the U.S. played Switzerland came late in the game, and that was only because the Americans came close to scoring in double digits in a 9-0 win. The only reason it was that close was that the Swiss have a goalie who played at Northeastern and has a knack for gobbling up the puck.

A few nights earlier, goalie Florence Schelling raised her arms in triumph as she left the ice, savoring the only kind of victory the Swiss were going to get against Canada - a moral one. Canada won 5-0, but Schelling sparkled in goal, stopping another 64 shots the Canadians threw her way.

“Without her it’s maybe 15-0,” said Canada’s Hayley Wickenheiser, who goes back to the 1998 Winter Games in Nagano and is the all-time leading Olympic goal scorer with 17.

Asked afterward what his team wanted to do against the United States, Switzerland coach Rene Kammerer had lowered expectations.

“Against the U.S. we want to score,” he said.

That didn’t happen; in fact the Swiss never came close to sniffing a goal. Even when Switzerland had an advantage on a power play in the second period, the U.S. mostly controlled the puck while playing four against five.

Little wonder that former IOC President Jacques Rogge warned after the debacle that was women’s hockey four years ago in Vancouver that “We cannot continue without improvement.”

The only surprise in Vancouver came after Canada beat the U.S. 2-0 for the gold medal and the Canadians came back on the ice afterward to guzzle beer, swig from bottles of champagne and smoke victory cigars.

It was Canada against the U.S., of course, because it always is Canada against the U.S when it really matters. The two countries have won all four golds, three silvers and a bronze at the Olympics, and no other nation has ever made the title game in the world championships.

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