Shawn P. Roarke:
|For openers: Not only do I believe in miracles, Al Michaels; but I also believe in Millericles!
After watching 29 Olympic hockey games, I'm siding with American coach Ron Wilson in my belief that the best goalie in this game, which just happens to be Team USA's Ryan Miller, will be wearing a gold medal when 60 minutes of unforgettable hockey have played out across the Canada Hockey Place ice surface.
Yes, I know that it is almost impossible to beat the same team in a tournament like this twice, especially when that team is Canada. And, yes, I understand that this will be the loudest, most hostile rink in which any of these American kids have ever competed.
But there is something undeniably special going on within Team USA here in Vancouver. No moment has been too big for this team and neither will Sunday afternoon.
|X-factor: It's rarely the superstars in high-pressure games that determine contests between equal teams. No, it is, as often as not, the plumbers and grinders that come to the fore on the biggest stage. For Team USA to win its first Olympic gold in 30 years, that will have to be the case. Look for the American's fourth line -- especially David Backes -- to have a big afternoon.|
|Prediction: This will be a game that few will soon forget. It is full of star power on the incredible emotion from the fans in the stands and a genuine dislike between the players from the two teams. At the conclusion of Sunday's passion play, though, it will be Team USA that emerges with the victory, taking a hard-fought, 3-2 victory.|
|For openers: Canada had the best team coming into this tournament and still does. After guiding through some rough terrain last week, Mike Babcock has pushed all the right buttons. His lines are working, especially the unit of Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry and Brenden Morrow. Canada's supposed shutdown line of Jonathan Toews with Rick Nash and Mike Richards is far superior to anything Team USA can put together. Shea Weber has opened eyes across the hockey world and Scott Niedermayer can obviously still play this game at an incredibly high level. The concern is that Roberto Luongo has never won a big game, but neither has Ryan Miller. Luongo gets his Sunday and a gold medal around his neck.|
|X-factor: If you were Ron Wilson and had your choice of one player to take off the Canadian roster, you'd be certifiably insane not to put Ryan Getzlaf out to pasture. He's huge, incredibly physical, remarkably skilled and he always shows up in a big way in the big game. Getzlaf is the one Canadian forward Team USA has no answer for.|
|Prediction: Canada 3, USA 1|
|For openers: If this were a seven-game series, the pick would be easy: Canada. It isn't, and so neither is the pick. I'll go with a dollop of history and dose of the theory that the ignorance of youth could be bliss. That and an unwillingness to pick chalk -- I had Sweden at the start of the tournament.
The last time I was in Vancouver and watched fans celebrate prematurely was following Game 6 of the 1994 Stanley Cup Final. While I understand their glee and love their passion, Canadian fans on Friday reminded me of bit of those Canucks fans who jumped the gun just a tad.
|X-Factor: Ryan Kesler, who normally spends his time making Vancouver fans happy, stamps himself as temporary Public Enemy No. 1 with another feisty, faceoff-winning performance that makes a difference.|
|Prediction: USA 4, Canada 3.|
|For openers: It's hard to fathom, but Sunday's gold-medal game will be even louder and more thrilling than last Sunday's 5-3 American win over Team Canada. The home crowd will help Team Canada in this game, fueled by the near-disaster of one hometown hero, the Vancouver Canucks' Pavol Demitra, nearly tying up a seemingly in-the-W-column game, against the ultimate hometown hero, Team Canada goalie Roberto Luongo in the semifinals. Canada's Sidney Crosby is always talking to the media about the need for a team to "play desperate" and the Canada crowd will be right there with The Kid on that one.|
|X-Factor: Luongo worries some people (OK, maybe more than that) but Canada's defensive pairings will actually be even more alert given the Big Guy With The Condo in Yaletown between the pipes. They will clear rebounds, hit people (especially Pat Kane and Zach Parise, apparently not on the Finns' checklist in the semifinals), block shots when needed and generally turn aside odd-man rushes. What's more, they can wreak havoc on the offensive attack. Babcock has stuck with his top pairs, Scott Niedermayer-Shea Weber and Duncan Keith-Drew Doughty, throughout the tournament. That pays off Sunday. Look for a big game from Keith, who can fly.|
|Prediction: Ryan Miller keeps it close despite handling a lopsided number of the game's shots, leaving the chance for Team USA to steal it late. But Canada wins it 4-2 with an empty-netter to clinch mayhem.|