The second semi-final of the men’s ice hockey tournament at the Sochi Olympics features a replay of the Vancouver final. Although the United States will be out for revenge, the real pressure is on Canada’s forwards.
Traditional ice hockey powerhouse Russia bounced out of their home Olympic tournament early, giving new credence to the argument made by some pundits in Canada that the United States have replaced the former “Big Red Machine” as its biggest international rival.
This rivalry has been lived out more than once at the #link:http://www.sochi2014.com/en:Winter Olympics# over the past dozen years.
First, in 2002, Canada captured gold on the Americans' home ice, beating them in the final of the Salt Lake City Games. Russia had to settle for bronze.
After both Canada and the US were shut out of the medals in Turin in 2006, the two North American sides were back in the final again in Vancouver, four years later. Sidney Crosby (pictured above) beat Ryan Miller in the US goal in overtime to win gold for Canada on their home ice.
The Americans headed into the #link:http://sochi2014.iihf.com/:ice hockey tournament at Sochi# with just one thing in mind: getting revenge for that defeat, which came by the slimmest of margins.
Based on their form in the tournament so far, the US were be the favorite going into Friday's semi-final, having cruised through the preliminary stage and easily beaten the Czech Republic 5-2 in the quarterfinals. In Phil Kessel, who has five goals and three assists, they also have the tournament's top scorer.
Canada, meanwhile, struggled to advance to the semi-final, beating the plucky Latvians 2-1 with a powerplay goal from defenseman Shea Weber in the third period.
One of the most common questions being asked on radio call-in shows in the 'Great White North' over the past couple of days was: “Why isn't Canada scoring?” Superstar forwards like Sidney Crosby and Ryan Getzlaf have struggled to get onto the score sheet, with defensemen Weber and Drew Doughty so far picking up just enough of the slack for Canada to advance.
Women's final adds to build up
A bit of added spice was added to the rivalry on Thursday night, when the US and Canada faced off in the gold-medal game of the women's tournament. Late in regulation time, the Americans, with a 2-0 lead, appeared to be headed for victory, until the never-say-die Canucks forced overtime with two goals in the last four minutes.
Marie Philip Poulin, who got the tying goal with 55 seconds left, then scored a powerplay goal eight minutes to play to win gold for Canada.
Now, not only will the US men's team be looking to avenge their defeat four years ago in Vancouver, but the bitter defeat of their women's equivalent by Canada may give them a bit of extra incentive.
On the Canadian side, men's coach Mike Babcock said Thurday's win by the women was a reminder that, no matter what, teams had to give everything until the final buzzer.
"You don't give in, you do not give in," Babcock said after the Thursday morning skate.
"You just keep on keeping on," he said. "Is it going to go your way every time? No, but you choose your attitude, how hard you are going to perform and you dig in. I am pumped."
For his part, US coach Dan Bylsma, who also happens to be Sidney Crosby's coach at National Hockey League team Pittsburgh Penguins, said he and his players could not wait for the puck to drop.
"Canada is the match-up we certainly all wanted," Bylsma said.
Case of beer on the line
It is the clash Canada wanted, too. Prime Minister Stephen Harper is already owed a case of beer from US President Barack Obama, after the Canadian women won gold. On Thursday, Obama will be hoping to win it back in the same bet for the the men's semi-final.
The winner of this semi-final will face Sweden in the gold medal game on Sunday, after the Swedes beat Finland 2-1 to advance.
Go to the DW Sports Twitter page for updates on the goals from the USA-Canada game: #link:https://twitter.com/dw_sports:@DW_sports#