Team USA insists it's just another game, but there is little doubt emotions will be running high when it faces Team Canada on Sunday at the 2010 Olympic Games in Vancouver.
Both teams enter undefeated, although the U.S. has one more point since both of its victories came in regulation. Canada needed a shootout to finish off Switzerland on Thursday.
"It's always a big game between the two teams, and I'm not trying to downplay this, but this isn't going to be the most important game of the tournament for us," U.S. forward Zach Parise told NHL.com. "It is as of now because you want to get that bye into the quarterfinals and that's what is at stake right now, but it's another game and it's going to be a lot of fun."
It will certainly be a lot of fun for Parise, who receives a rare opportunity to face goaltender and New Jersey Devils teammate Martin Brodeur in live game action. Parise, though, will enter the game under the impression that he won't have any type of advantage against Brodeur.
"I've been paying attention, been watching, but at the same time I want to hear other teams' perspectives of him," Parise said of facing the future Hall of Famer. "Shooting on him in practice is one thing, but once the game situation comes it's a lot different. I'm really going to be paying attention to what they're saying, their approaches to him, rather than what I see in practice. Game situations are different. It's not as if you have three guys crashing the net in practice all the time. He knows where I like to shoot, too, so it's not like I have an advantage on him or anything."
Ryan Miller, who will receive every start as long as the U.S. remains in medal competition, is looking forward to this star-studded matchup. Miller has allowed only two goals in Team USA's first two games. However, he expects to treat Sunday like any other game.
"It's just another opportunity to play against Marty, I guess," Miller told NHL.com. "We don't have all that much interaction. They are hockey games and if you make them bigger, more fantastic, than you get outside yourself. I'm going to enjoy the experience and try to have a good amount of energy on the ice tomorrow, but it is a hockey game and I know how to do that."
The edge in experience certainly goes to Canada, as U.S. GM Brian Burke constructed a relatively young team for these Olympics. However, the few veterans on the squad know that the U.S. needs to stick to what made it successful in the first two contests.
"We just have to play our game," U.S. defenseman Brian Rafalski said. "I think you started seeing that in the third period last game and guys are getting more comfortable finding their stride here. A lot of these guys, it's their first Olympics and it took them a couple of games to get their feet wet. Now hopefully we can come out from the get-go and play hard."
That shouldn't be too much of a problem when you consider the amount of star power that will be visible on both ends of the ice. For every player involved, this is the type of game they've been dreaming about since childhood.
"These are the games you want to play in," 23-year-old defenseman Jack Johnson told NHL.com. "These are the big games. Yeah, there is a ton of pressure on them, no doubt. But there is a lot of pride on the line for us."