Although Pittsburgh sits three time zones removed from Vancouver, Sunday afternoon’s Gold Medal Game between the United States and Canada dominated the talk in the locker room following practice at Mellon Arena.
With six Americans and 12 Canadians on the Penguins’ roster, and forward Sidney Crosby
and goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury
representing Team Canada and defenseman Brooks Orpik
skating for Team USA, opinions ranged as wide as the color spectrum when the players were asked to analyze today’s contest.
“I’m looking forward to a good hockey game,” head coach Dan Bylsma said. “It’ll be exciting and entertaining. There will be a ton of emotion at the end of the game. It will be emotional watching it. It will make for an interesting afternoon.”
“I think this is great for hockey, for the fans and for those teams,” American Mike Rupp said. “It couldn’t have been any better than this matchup.”
These two teams have already met once in Vancouver. The United States secured an epic 5-3 victory in the finale of the preliminary round on Feb. 21. Canadian fans across the nation were in an uproar following that contest, but Quebec native Maxime Talbot thinks the Canadian squad will be just fine in the rematch.
“I don’t think they played that bad (against the U.S.) in the round robin,” Talbot said. “They have to get some pucks on (Ryan) Miller because he has been playing really good. They have to use the crowd and try to get on top first. They have to be patient too. They have the size, speed and goaltending so I don’t see why they can’t win. I’m going to say 5-2 Canada.”
Goaltender Brent Johnson
, an American, believes his home country will prevail in a tight contest featuring a goaltending dual between Miller and Canada’s Roberto Luongo.
“I think (Miller) has allowed five goals the whole tournament,” Johnson said. “That is a pretty good goals-against (average) and save percentage to have. He has been sharp. That is why I think it is going to be a low-scoring game. Luongo is playing well too. He made a huge save at the end of the last game. I think it will be low scoring because the goalies have played so well.
“I think it is going to be a good game. Everybody is predicting Canada to win like 4-2 or 5-2. I guess they think they are going to score a lot of goals. I’m going to go U.S. 2-1. I’m saying that but I will probably be wrong but I want the U.S. to win.”
Count the pride of Thunder Bay, Ontario, Jordan Staal
, among those predicting a Canadian victory.
“I am cheering for Canada and I want them to win,” said Staal, whose brother, Eric, will begin the game on a line with Crosby. “It’s going to be a great game. Both teams match up real well. It is going to be fun to watch. I say Canada wins, 4-3.”
As a fellow Canuck, Talbot knows the pressure the Canadians are facing heading into this game. He also says, after talking on the phone with Fleury late last week, that the crowd could play a huge role in helping energize the Canadians.
“We are on home soil so I think the team is pumped up,” Talbot said. “The fans are crazy up there. I talked to Flower two days ago and he said he couldn’t believe how loud it is. It is a big deal for us Canadians.”
Yes, the Canadians will have the home-ice advantage on their side. But American Alex Goligoski, who is no stranger to international competition from his World Junior days, says the Americans are a pretty strong team themselves.
“They just have to keep playing the way they have,” Goligoski said. “They haven’t lost yet. They have been a tough team to play against. Their bottom lines are filled with big, fast forwards. They can play with the Canadian team.
“This would definitely be huge for USA Hockey. We haven’t won a gold medal since the ‘Miracle on Ice’ team. My prediction is a 4-2 U.S. win with the fourth goal being an empty-net goal.”
And while most players polled, no matter which side they are rooting for, expected a close score, Rupp was among the few who didn’t see it that way.
“I have a feeling that one way or another it is not going to be a close game,” Rupp said. “I think one team is going to come right out and take it to the other, forcing the other one to scramble.”