If you are a fan of hockey, then how could you not have been rooting for a USA-Canada semifinal? This has all the makings of a World Junior classic game. Thanks to a 4-1 victory over Switzerland in the quarterfinal, Canada sets up the game that everyone wanted. Well, almost everyone.
I posed the question on Twitter yesterday of which of yesterday’s quarterfinal opponents USA fans preferred. Plenty wanted to see the USA-Canada match-up, but many folks said they’d prefer Switzerland because it would have meant Canada would have no shot at a medal. You people are cold. We’re allies with our friendly northerly neighbors. Buddies, right?
Not when it comes to hockey. Not even a little.
I side with the people that wanted to see Canada. As the great Ric Flair once said, “To be the man, you gotta beat the man.” These two teams are at the top of the Junior hockey world. It only makes sense that they’d have to meet at some point on the road to gold, right?
There’s a fair amount of hatred between these two teams, too. There’s respect, sure, but quite a bit of distaste for one another. Nothing matters but the crests on the two jerseys. Many of these guys on either side know each other, some are current teammates, some may play together one day in the NHL, some are even friends. But for 60 (or more) minutes on Monday, January 3, 2011, starting at 7:30 p.m. EST, they are mortal enemies.
There is something special about a USA-Canada hockey game at any level of hockey, but particularly at the World Juniors. We got spoiled with two absolute classic games last year. One bad, one great for Americans. No matter how you slice it, this rivalry is mazing theater.
If you’re a hockey fan and your favorite NHL team is playing tonight, you’ve got 81 other chances a year to watch them. Do yourself a favor, turn on NHL Network or FASTHockey.com (like me), grab yourself a six pack of something American and watch this game. You won’t be disappointed.
Every check will be finished. There will be a battle for every loose puck. There will be goals. There will be saves. There Will Be Blood.
Perhaps I’m overselling it? Or maybe I’m not selling it enough.
This is about as even a match-up as you’ll find during the World Juniors on paper. I think the U.S. has really only one certain competitive advantage over Canada and that’s goaltending.
We heard about how this Canadian team was the scrappy underdogs. No star power. Just grit, some tape and the Canadian spirit. Kind of like a bunch of David Ecksteins (minus the Canadian spirit) on ice. But in actuality, this is a team of 15 first-round picks, the consensus best draft prospect in all of hockey, the gold medalists five out of the last six years, etc. Underdogs, they are not.
The U.S. team was widely considered the favorite. The team that would steamroll its way to the gold medal game. Instead, the U.S. had a pretty tough road in the prelims, with a pair of one-goal wins against Finland (in overtime) and Switzerland. Yes, they won all their games, but it was hardly the cruise some thought it would be, which I think is to Team USA’s benefit.
Tonight’s contest might not have the same appeal as playing for the gold medal, but to me, it’s almost the same thing. There is almost more on the line in this game. Not having the opportunity to play for gold would be devastating to whichever team ends up on the losing end tonight. Getting up for that bronze-medal game would be a tall order.
I wonder how much sleep players on either team got last night. This has to be exciting, nerve-racking and in some cases overwhelming.
A USA-Canada game one year after an epic World Juniors, 11 months after an insane Olympics, days after a highly-rated Winter Classic and in the midst of another great year for hockey? Yeah… should be good.
This is the first of an avalanche of posts today. It is kind of a big day, I suppose. Coming up next, I take a look at Jack Campbell and what he means to Team USA tonight. But first….
Want Links? I got some Links. Here’s some appetizers for the five-star meal we get tonight:
Kevin Allen of USA Today takes a look at tonight’s game. Guess it’s going to be a big one.
Harry Thompson sets the stage over at USAHockey.com. Keith Allain wants his team “loose and confident.” Allain was an assistant for Team USA in 2008, when it found itself in this same position. That one didn’t go so well.
Would it be a links post if it didn’t include Mike Morreale of NHL.com? No, it wouldn’t. So here’s not one, but two stories from him! First off, he reviewed Team USA’s path to the semifinals. And here’s Mike’s piece on the big game. A lot of great quotes on the rivalry factor.
Mike Harrington of the Buffalo News thinks the tonight’s event may remain in Buffalo hockey lore for a lifetime. You’ll also have to read Louis Leblanc’s quote at the end. Nothing we didn’t already know, but always fun to see.
TSN’s got Bob McKenzie and Pierre McGuire preview the USA-Canada game for us. Some good insight from the Canadian side.
The Toronto Sun’s Terry Koshan fears that another slow start might doom the Canadians against Team USA.
Here’s a cool time-lapse video from USAHockey.com’s Cameron Eickmeyer showing a little bit of how Team USA’s dressing room is set up on game days by athletic trainer Jason Hodges, team doctor Phil Johnson and equipment manager Scott Aldrich. Always nice to check out the set up, and give some credit to the guys that make it happen.
Lastly, I figure most of my readers are American… and I am American. This is one of those days where objectivity kind of gets flung out the window. I know a lot of you out there won’t have any trouble getting revved up for this game. Still, I feel that, as an American, it is my civic duty to offer you this bit of motivation and even some words of wisdom from a REAL AMERICAN. Watch this video. Start to finish. Thank me, then go get the American Flag tattooed across your chest. It’s a great day for hockey, everyone!