R -- This United States team may be too good to be considered giant killers in the Olympic hockey tournament. But they will have to slay some individual giants Sunday if they hope to win the Group A title.
Those giants will be wearing the maple leaf of Team Canada, the team that will try to deny the Americans the bye into the quarterfinal stage granted to the group winner. Team USA (2-0-0-0, 6 points) is one point ahead of Canada (1-1-0-0, 5 points) in the race for the top spot, but Sunday's winner will take the crown.
If the Americans want to beat the Canadians in Olympic play for the first time since 1960, they will have to find a way to deal with Canada's intimidating size. Canada GM Steve Yzerman
built a team that is long on both brawn and skating.
Fourteen of Canada's 20 skaters are 6-foot-2 or better. All but three weigh at least 200 pounds and four tip the scales at more than 220 pounds. That preponderance of big bruisers will put the Americans under pressure throughout the game.
"We've got some size too," American GM Brian Burke
said, almost defiantly. "We've just got to try and get some line matchups the way we want them. We purposely brought some beef for that reasons."
The size is limited on the blue line. Only three defenders are 6-foot-2 or bigger and only one -- Erik Johnson
of the St. Louis Blues
-- tops the 220 pounds regularly seen among the Canadians.
So the Americans will want their defensemen to move the puck more quickly when they are forced by the Canadian forwards to turn and chase dump-ins. In the end, quick, efficient puck movement is the best counter-punch against brute force.
"We talked a little today about moving the puck quicker," American defenseman Tim Gleason
said Saturday. "With Canada, they will be pressuring us, so we will have to move the puck as fast and as consistently as we can."
Then the American forwards will have to use their speed and smarts in transition to put the trees on the Canadian blue line on their heels -- a blueprint the American team used in this winter's World Junior Tournament to beat the favored Canadians on home soil.
"I guess it's similar to a fighter; a smaller guy trying to get inside," American forward Joe Pavelski
, who is just 5-11, 190, told NHL.com. "Just compete is the biggest thing. You have to compete. They have size and they are going to make plays and hits, but we have some good-sized guys, too."
The Americans insist they will not be intimidated by the size Canada can bring to bear when it rolls forwards like Rick Nash
, Jarome Iginla
, Ryan Getzlaf
and Corey Perry
into the attacking zone on the forecheck to hound and punish the opposing defense.
Gleason is one of the American defensemen that will be under siege throughout Sunday's game. But he was almost smiling as he talked about what it will be like to face Canada's unrelenting pressure.
"There is no break," he said. "It's one of those things with a select team. Every single time on the ice, someone is going to be coming after you. That's just part of the Olympics. That's why it is so fun."
Los Angeles Kings
defenseman Jack Johnson
couldn't agree more.
He is already the Villain of Vancouver for his penchant as a junior to hit any Canadian that ventured into his path during the 2006 World Junior Championships here.
"They might be big, but I think we have some pretty strong defenseman, too," Johnson said. "We have some gritty forwards and we're fast. We've all played in the NHL and we have all played against these guys. It's not like we're seeing something that we've never seen before.
"We're just going to be playing hockey. Yeah, we are going to finish checks whenever we get the chance, as will they. Hockey's a physical sport, so we will be hitting for sure. I think it is going to be a great, great hockey game."
And a hockey game the Americans believe they can win, despite the size disadvantage.
"We feel a quiet confidence; it's a quiet group," American coach Ron Wilson said. "I think they believe they're starting to do something special here."