Saturday, February 20, 2010

Around The Rink USA-Canada Preview

by Bob Herpen
The Phanatic Magazine

When last we saw these neighboring hockey superpowers, it was eight years ago  on American soil, battling for world supremacy.

Despite a valiant effort, Team USA was unable to cap their run in Salt Lake City, seeing Canada tally three times late in the third period en route to its first Gold medal since 1952.

Following the inspired victory, Team Canada officials and players revealed the nation's good luck charm: a one-dollar coin, nicknamed a "loonie" buried beneath center ice.

American hockey fans seethed at the breech of decorum, and have been waiting silently since 2002 for their countrymen to steal back that thunder in the Great White North.

After a dismal showing by both countries in Torino, which saw Canada wind up seventh and the United States finishing eighth, each nation has something important on the line while facing each other on Sunday.

For the hosts flying under the Maple Leaf, they need to prove not only that 2006 was a major fluke, but also that 2002 wasn't. The obsession which surrounds Canada as the progenitor of the sport won't permit any other expectation than a medal at the very least.

The fact that younger, brasher and more spirited Americans won the World Junior Championship in Regina in early January doesn't help the situation.

On the other hand, Team USA faces no international expectations whatsoever. They do, however, have to focus their internal desire to prove themselves worthy on the world stage into executing a smart game plan.

United States hasn't beaten Canada at any Olympic level since February 25, 1960 at Squaw Valley, with a 3-3 tie in 1994 at Lillehammer the only point earned since.

The Red, White and Blue allowed Norway to control the middle portion of a 6-1 win on Thursday, and didn't assume full control until a three-goal burst in the final five minutes.

America needs to come up with an aggressive yet restrictive system in order to harness what is a clear talent and size advantage by Canada. A healthy dose of good old underdog spirit can't hurt either, along with Ryan Miller needing to outperform Martin Brodeur in goal.

The anvil on Canada's collective broad shoulders has an extra 500-pound weight attached after it eked out a victory on Thursday over Switzerland.

Had the Swiss somehow upset the Canadians, you can be dead certain that the Americans would be nothing more than baby deer in the headlights of an oncoming speeding train come Sunday evening.

Instead, the narrow 3-2 shootout victory only intensifies and amplifies the scrutiny for the home team. It may be akin to a national embarrassment if Canada posts nothing less than a rousing regulation victory.

Due to the point ranking system for the medal round, a loss of any kind severely damages Canada's chances to receive a bye, while a close win in regulation or a one-goal decision in overtime or a shootout can  accomplish the same.

That means a double psychological advantage shifts to Team USA.

Keep this fact in mind: On just two occasions in Olympic history has the host nation won the Gold.

I'll give you a second...it'll come to ya.

That's right. The United States, in 1960 and 1980. Both "Miracles on Ice"

Final Score: USA 5, Canada 4.
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