Courtesy of USA Hockey.
Granted, I don't live in the country. Haven't even been there despite being born in St. Paul, a mere six hours south of the Canadian border. But one can only imagine what today means to Canada, the birthplace of hockey, the country who has proudly proclaimed "It's Our Game" on assorted signs and poster board throughout these Winter Games.
Funny thing about games-- you may own it on paper constructed by your design, but at the end of the day, you still have to play them. Last Sunday proved that.
It's a motto that CBC and CTV and TSN have fed to us, and on some level, I agree with it. They own the game in that they live and breathe it on a daily level. It's a part of their national fiber. The Miracle on Ice in 1980 was one of the few times the sport of hockey truly entered the public consciousness in the States, and even that was more a product of politics and international relations than the actual sport. If Switzerland was a hockey superpower at the time, with the skill and success of the USSR, there would be no miracle, no movies, no media obsession. It would just be another game, definitely an upset and bright mark for the United States' hockey community of course, but still, just a game.
To Canadians, today is more than just a game. It is a point of national pride, and I bet if you polled 1,000 members of the population in a random sample, at least 800 of them would say that this is the most important Gold medal that the country could earn in Vancouver, and just may determine how fondly they remember the Games ten years down the road despite currently leading the podium parade in Gold Medals with 13.
The pressure on the team will be enormous. With the entire country watching, every move magnified, every shot second-guessed, it will play a large role in the game today. Get an early lead and watch the crowd roar; go down early and listen to crickets.
And that's the rub, really; Team USA wasn't meant to be here. They weren't supposed to be undefeated, nor the one seed, nor were they meant to be improving exponentially with each twenty minute period that passed. A bunch of kids, the youngest team in the tournament, kids who are led by a mere two players (Rafalski, Drury) that had Olympic credentials two weeks ago. The fact that they are even here is a testament to the coaching staff, management, the skaters, and of course, Ryan Miller. It truly has been a wonderful Olympic Games for United States Hockey, no matter the outcome of today.
Essentially, there's no pressure.
So what gives? Frankly I'm not sure. I'd like to believe that Team USA trots to the top of the podium today, Gold wrapped around Joe Pavelski and Ryan Kesler. But if you're asking for odds, and asking me to answer truthfully, I'd have a hard time betting against Canada. I just don't think guys like Jarome Iginla, Chris Pronger, Sidney Crosby, and Dany Heatley are going to allow the reverse of Salt Lake City to occur. Ryan Miller is the reason the USA is undefeated up to this point, and last Sunday's tilt really was an issue of goaltending-- Miller stole the game, Brodeur gave it away.
With Roberto Luongo in net today, Canada has their answer between the pipes. He hasn't been fantastic, but he really doesn't need to be. Ryan Miller does. Three goals is the defining line I think, and while Miller has proved that he can hold that line, it's going to require a superhuman effort to get there. There is just too much firepower on the Canadian side of the ice. A brief look at the rosters will show you that the Americans are overmatched.
Funny thing about games though-- you may own it on paper, but at the end of the day, you still have to play them.