LAKE PLACID, N.Y. -- Some days, Angela Ruggiero is a "D." Other days, she's a "C." She's even, on occasion, been an "F."
Chances are the defender-center-forward on the U.S. women's hockey team would take tickets, wash uniforms or even run the Zamboni machine between periods to win another Olympic gold medal.
"Yeah, there's unfinished business," Ruggiero says.
It has been eight years since the U.S. women's team wore the gold and four years since dejected team members could barely stand to look at the silver medals around their necks. In both cases, the final opponent was the same: Canada.
Although there are six other women's teams in the competition, few expect that, when the puck is dropped Feb. 20 for the gold-medal game, the teams will be any different.
A fierce rivalry, but it's not quite Red Sox-Yankees, is it?
"Oh, I'd say it is," says Ruggiero, 26, a Harvard graduate. "I love the Red Sox to death, and I'm a diehard with them. You can just smell the rivalry, taste it. With Canada, it's the same thing. Any Red Sox-Yankees game, the beginning of the season, end of the season, it's going to be a great game. It's the same with Canada."
In addition to the 1998 and 2002 Olympic contests, the two countries have played each other nine times for the world championship, with Canada taking all but last year's contest.
Early this season, it appeared Canada was pulling away from its traditional rival. It routed the U.S. team in two games in Turin, 5-0 and 7-0.
"We had a bit of a rough beginning," Ruggiero says. "Canada had a little bit of a jump on us. They started camp earlier, and physically they were in shape a little quicker than we were.
"We knew as a group what we had to do, but people were freaking out, `Oh, wow, what's happened to the Americans?' but we stayed calm throughout."
They were learning coach Ben Smith's new system, one that relies on players assuming other positions. Ruggiero, the nation's best defender, did turns as an offensive player.
"We want to make sure that we cover all contingencies," Smith says. "We're only allowed 18 skaters in the [Olympic] village. If somebody gets hurt, if somebody's not playing well, you've got enough people to fill in at other positions. It's hard on the players, but that's good to be hard on them now so they'll be ready for when the games start."
It has been hard, but necessary, says Julie Chu, 23, a forward who learned to play defense.
"A game dictates different circumstances where we need people to step up and fill those positions, whether it's on the power play or killing a penalty," she says.
The past four games between the teams ended in a split, but Canada won the series, 5-2, outscoring the Americans, 32-11.
This year, Smith has a core of four players who played for him in the previous two Olympics: Ruggiero, Jenny Potter, Katie King and Tricia Dunn-Luoma. Ten other players, including Chu, were around for the 2002 Salt Lake Olympics and four are rookies.
The Canadian squad will have 13 players from the 2002 roster, six of whom also played in the 1998 Winter Games. Goalie Kim St. Pierre has looked as sharp as ever, and veteran forwards Danielle Goyette and Hayley Wickenheiser will lead the team.
Ruggiero says with conditioning, the team has become more aggressive.
"It takes a couple of months to get your skating legs under you. Right now, our team is starting to peak," she says.
But while the legs and lungs may be stronger, there's a question about the U.S. squad's heart.
In August in Lake Placid, Smith abruptly cut team captain Cammi Granato, 34, saying she wasn't as good as some of the younger players. The move stunned the woman who had been on the team since its inception in 1990, and it surprised her teammates.
"It was a shock when Cammi was left off," Ruggiero says. "It hurts. She was like a sister to us. It's tough for all of us. We miss her, and she misses us."
Granato will be at the Olympics as an NBC analyst, but she remains upset.
"I felt completely disrespected by the whole organization. I still firmly believe I belong on the team. I know that I do," she told the San Jose Mercury News.
But Smith and Ruggiero say the team is refocusing now.
"Every so often in practice, I feel like we're showing a new gear that hasn't been there," Smith says. "I think we're getting close to the boiling point. Peaking at the right time, that's the art of it."
The United States will play Switzerland, Germany and 1998 bronze medalist Finland in the first round. Canada will play 2002 bronze medalist Sweden, Russia and host Italy.
But unless a recount proves Dewey did beat Truman or hell really does freeze over, the final game will be as it always is.
"This is a huge rivalry for us," says Chu, another Harvard graduate. "It's going to be a battle."
And for Ruggiero, it's payback time.
"I always say when I'm in the gym or on the ice, that little bit of effort that you squeak out in practice, it's for them, it really is," Ruggiero says. "It's a motivating force."