When Canada won the gold medal in 2002 at Salt Lake City, it was against the United States. When they skated away with gold on home ice in Vancouver in 2010, it was by defeating their neighbours to the south. It is only fitting that the path to the 2014 gold medal game is blocked by the Americans. They’ll have to go through them for gold and glory.
“Everyone knows the rivalry with the U.S. and Canada,” said Oilers forward Ryan Smyth, who was on the 2002 Canadian Olympic Team. “This, I think, is going to be a defining moment for a lot of these players. Somebody’s going to be a hero and it’s going to be awesome.”
|Sidney Crosby (above) and Team Canada will renew its rivalry with USA in the Olympic semifinals. Photo by Getty Images. |
For Canada, beating the U.S. is no small task. The Americans have tore through the tournament thus far. They pummelled Slovakia 7-1, beat host country Russia in a shootout on the back of T.J. Oshie then they skated by Slovenia, winning by four goals, and held off the Czechs, 5-2.
“They’ve been the best team so far,” Oilers President of Hockey Operations Kevin Lowe said. “I hate to say it but they’d have to be considered favourites just with the way the two teams have performed. That doesn’t mean that our team isn’t confident that we can win the hockey game and we’ll see what happens.”
Lowe is a member of Canada’s management team and has scouted their opponents throughout the tournament. He is most impressed with USA’s showing thus far. It doesn’t come as a surprise to him that the two teams meet in the semifinals.
“I think everyone knew the Americans were one of the favourites for winning the gold. We knew, if we were going to win, we’d have to play them eventually whether it was now or in the gold medal game. You have to beat the best teams, typically, to get the gold medal… Now it’s time for the group to man up and see what they have.”
Phil Kessel leads the way for the Americans with five goals in four games with the Americans. He has a team-high eight points.
|Photo by Getty Images. |
“Certainly, his name is quite evident on the scoresheet,” Lowe said. “He appears to have a game built for the big ice. He’s fast. He has a combination of fast and quick and he has quick hands. The checking is so tight inside those scoring areas at the Olympics that when you have hands like his, you’re able to capitalize on an opportunity because he’s got quick hands. He’ll definitely be a player that I’m sure is at the top of the list for the team overall.”
The Canadians will also try to solve the riddle that is Jonathan Quick. The Los Angeles Kings goaltender has backstopped the U.S. to three tournament wins and has a .935 save percentage and a 1.62 goals against average heading into the semifinals.
“I think the goalies like Jonathan Quick, the top goalies, you can’t say that they have any weaknesses,” Lowe said. “There are areas that teams try to focus on. You’ve got to get pucks to the net, you’ve got to get traffic to the net and you’ve got to realize you don’t get many opportunities and you have to bear down when you do get an opportunity.”
|Jonathan Quick (above) makes a save against the Czech Republic. Photo by Getty Images. |
Luckily for Canada, they have a couple of Los Angeles teammates of Quick on their roster.
“I’m sure Jeff Carter will want to share a few things with his teammates in terms of what he sees out there. That’s the beauty of the Olympics. There’s nothing that the players won’t reveal of their NHL teammates if it’s going to benefit their national team. I don’t want to say much more than that but I know that Quick’s a great goalie but we had to beat a good one in Vancouver and we had to beat a good one in Salt Lake City. Hopefully that’s the case again.”
In the end, Lowe thinks it won’t come down to individuals. Both teams are similarly skilled and evenly matched.
“It’s going to be about the style of play that the Americans want to play versus the style of play of the Canadians. Really, the teams are skill and ability. The overall depth and coaching are so evenly matched that it’ll just come down to who’s experience, discipline and will is going to win this game.”
The Canada-USA rivalry is just heating up on the international stage. With the history between the teams, the talent on both rosters and the proximity of the countries, it is sure to continue to grow and can only help the exposure of the league that these players play in.
“It’s two teams that I think were destined to play each other at some point because they’re both equal hockey powers now,” Lowe said. “That’s from the youngest ages right up to the pros and to the best players in the world. You see it in under 18’s and under 20’s. Whatever it is… I think, personally, it’s taken over for the USA-Russia thing or even the Canada-Russia thing because of where the USA game has come.
“The end result is that it’s so good for the National Hockey League. Even the women’s game. I’m sure there was good numbers in the United States, even though it was a disappointing result for them. It’s lots of viewership, for hockey, period in the United States and the men’s game will be the pinnacle of that. The end result is hockey in North America will really benefit from what’s gone on here.”