It looks like the USA and Canada will continue their ice hockey Olympic showdown on Friday. After the Americans dominated the Czech Republic in a 5-2 win, and the Canadians managed to squeak by Latvia in a 2-1 nail-biter, the two teams will go head-to-head in the semifinal in a repeat match-up of the Olympic gold-medal game of five years ago in Vancouver.
On paper there is not a lot between the two teams, but so far the Americans have seemed the more convincing squad. With solid performances in the round robin competition, finishing second in standings to the Swedes, the Americans are firing on all cylinders. If there was any doubt of American resolve, it was put to rest when they defeated the Russians in an overtime shootout thriller.
Not to downplay Canadian ice hockey talent however, as they have been somewhat stymied by collapsing defensive styles of play against teams like Latvia. When you look at the statistics of the Canada Latvia game, it is obvious how a defensive style of play can potentially upset an established favorite. At the end of the game Canada had amassed 57 shots on goal compared to Latvia’s 16, but it was not until the end of the third period that Shea Weber managed to put one in the Latvian net from the point to take the lead.
With the Americans and Canadians playing the same NHL style of ice hockey, the USA Canada Olympic showdown promises to equal the 2010 gold medal game in Vancouver, or a Stanley Cup final game-7 for that matter.
Sweden will play Finland in the other semifinal, also on Friday, in a game that is sure to be a hard-fought battle. Neither team likes the other march, and they are both on a roll. Sweden may have the edge in talent, but the Finns have shown they have the will to win with a convincing victory over Russia and a near win over Canada in the round robin tournament.
Perhaps what illustrates the stakes best however is the fact neither the USA or Canada are guaranteed any medal at this stage. It is still possible that one of the teams could go home empty-handed, with a loss on Friday, and a second loss in the bronze-medal game on Saturday would mean a trip to Sochi for nothing. Then again, neither team is shooting for a bronze medal. There is no doubt the Americans would love to avenge their loss in Vancouver and move on to the gold-medal game, and there is equally no doubt the Canadians would like to repeat the Vancouver result.
With Russia eliminated by the Finns, all eyes are now on the North American rivalry. For the moment, in the States, and Canada, the Sweden Finland game is of no interest, the only game that matters in the world of ice hockey right now, is Friday’s USA Canada Olympic showdown. If both teams show up with their passion and pride in place, it will be one hell of a battle.
By Scott Wilson