Feb 23, 2002
This was supposed to happen four years ago. In 1998, Canada was still reeling from their shocking loss to the Americans at the World Cup of Hockey in 1996. With that in mind, the prohibitive favourite of nearly every hockey tournament stocked its' team specifically to deal with this new American menace to Canada's national identity. Shayne Corson, Rob Zamuner - career mucks and grinders suddenly had a spot on the national team of the nation with the deepest talent pool.
But the Canadians lost in the famous shootout against Dominik Hasek, and the Americans had to take some beginner carpentry courses when they returned home after a dismal tournament. This time around, the Czechs and Russians are gone; and after a stunning loss to the Belarussians, so are the Swedes. The two teams have taken very different paths to get to the gold medal game, and it shows.
The Americans blew out Finland in the opening game and haven't looked back since. Canada, on the other hand, was dealt a loss that coupled with a lacklustre win against Germany, already had many hands wringing across the country, for such is the way of Canadian sports writers.
Canada finally got its chance to hammer an opponent when it beat Belarus 7-1 to advance to the Gold Medal Game. The United States, playing in front of a boisterous home ice crowd defeated Russia 3-2, in so far the most exciting game in a tourney that has featured a lot of great games. Perhaps Gary Bettman should take a long hard look at the quality of an undiluted talent pool this tournament has offered.
The NHL is secretly hoping that this happens every Olympics. A Canada-America matchup is bound to promote interest in the league that these players ply their trade for (it's a lot harder to search through Home Depot before you find some of the Canadian and American women's hockey players plying their trades).
Sadly, there have been numerous stories that the NHL is reconsidering allowing its' professionals to travel to Italy for the 2006. Other stories have the General Managers o the league really liking the hurry-up faceoff rule, and it may be implemented in the NHL by next season, if approved. I wonder how the front offices of CBC and ABC will react to a very sudden reduction in commercial time.
Back to this year's final game: this matchup will most likely be won and lost in goal. With the age-old axiom that defence wins championships still largely in affect, this Gold Medal game will be slightly different. The defence that is able to keep the Nolans, Roenicks, Smyths and Leclairs... and is able to pop in a goal or two will make all the difference.
The Canadian forwards have been largely unable to hit the net on quite a few chances, something that has to change if the Canadian Anthem will be played after the game. The Americans, on the other hand seem to be doing a lot of things right, and just need to keep on track to win the Gold. The heavy forechecking style of both teams, and the intensity of the game will ensure that a lot of bodies will get bumped around quite frequently. It will be the type of contest that Adam Foote and Chris Chelios love to play, and I hear that guy Chris Pronger is no slouch either.
The goaltending match-up will be Mike Richter against Martin Brodeur. There is an obvious edge to the Canadians here. Although both goalies are very adept at stopping pucks, Brodeur can move the puck like nobody else in the NHL can, and might catch the Americans on a change unaware once or twice. If he manages to catch Mario... perhaps once is all he'll need.
And what about Mario Lemieux, playing on a line with Paul Kariya and Steve Yzerman? I have to give another nod to the Canadians here, because the Americans don't have a line that has that much individual talent, playing that well together.
To be honest, this game is too close to call. But I really want to make a call though, because, I almost feel like it's my job to do so. So - What Anthem will we be hearing after 70 minutes of hockey? (Yes, I'm predicting that this will be the first game of the tournament not settled in regulation time... but I'm not expecting it to go to a shootout). Oh Canada...
Editors note: U-S-A ;)
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