Two of the most powerful ice hockey teams in the world, U.S.A and Canada, will meet again in the Olympics, but this time the matchup won’t be for the gold medal like it was in Vancouver in 2010. North American hockey fans will have to satisfy their thirst for the rivalry in the semi-finals on Friday in Sochi. Both teams won their quarter-final games today, with second-seeded U.S.A swamping the Czech Republic 5-2 and number three seed Canada got all they could handle from little-regarded Latvia before pulling out a 2-1 win.
The U.S. jumped on the Czechs early, with James Van Reimsdyk punching in a goal just 1:39 into the game. The lead lasted less than 3 minutes, though, as the Czech Republic’s Alex Hemsky scored to knot it at 1-1. That was the last time the Czechs would be a threat. Goals by Dustin Brown and David Backes before the first intermission gave the U.S. a lead that it would never relinquish. American goalie Jonathan Quick has been tough in the net for the U.S. throughout the games, and didn’t let up today. Quick stopped 21 shots, and held the Czechs to one goal for most of the game, not giving up the second score until just seven minutes remained in the game.
For Canada, things weren’t so comfortable. Goals by the Canadians’ Patrick Sharp and Latvia’s Lauris Darzins in the last seven minutes of the first period were the only scores until the last seven minutes of the game. At the 13:06 mark of the third period, the Canadian team got the game-winner on a power-play goal by Shea Weber, sending his team on to meet the Americans in the Semi-Finals.
The survivor of the U.S./Canada showdown will still have some work to do. They’ll face either Sweden or Finland for the ice hockey gold on Sunday. Sweden is the top seed, and has won every game they’ve played so far in the Sochi games. Their latest conquest was a 5-0 pasting of Slovenia in the quarterfinals. Finland came into the knockout round as the number four seed, and provided the most talked about win of the Olympics, sending host Russia out of the competition with a 3-1 victory.
Team Canada came into the 2014 games as the favorite to win the gold, but they’ve struggled to find the winning combination on the ice. The Canadians went 2-1 in the preliminary round, with that one loss to Finland costing them the top seed in the knockout rounds. The result was the number three seed, in the same side of the brackets as the second-seeded American ice hockey team.
So now these ice hockey giants have the matchup each wanted and expected, even if it is the semi-finals. For the Canadians it’s a matter of retaining North American bragging rights. For the U.S. it’s mostly about avenging a bitter defeat four years ago in the gold medal game in Vancouver, when they fell to Canada in overtime. Perhaps there is more at stake for these Olympic games, however, as only the winner will move on to the gold medal game, and the loser will have to win one more just to get bronze.
By Chuck Podhaisky