The United States and Canada are both in action today, opening Group A play against the other two teams in the group. On Tuesday, the North American nations will play their final group game, with tournament organizers praying it will decide the group winner.
Beyond the general malaise I have for Team USA in general these days, from roster decisions to playing style to coaching choices, this “rivalry” has never been particularly interesting to me. In recent years I’ve realized I’m not the only one who finds it nearly as forced as Alex Ovechkin vs. Sidney Crosby or the Toronto Maple Leafs vs. the Ottawa Senators.
This is a fake rivalry and we should stop treating it as anything more than that.
Team Canada owns the United States in Ice Hockey much in the same way that America decimates Canada is just about every other sport on planet Earth. No shit. The United States is a highly developed, uber-diverse country with multiple geographic landscapes and 300 million people. Most of Canada’s territory is uninhabitable and it shouldn’t shock you to find out that it’s tough to play baseball in Toronto in January.
To be a rivalry there needs to be legitimate competition, and while the United States has beaten Canada in recent years it has usually been thanks to supreme luck and not an actual improvement in skill. Canada has the best hockey players in the world, which is why despite making baffling roster decision after decision, the Canadians are heavily favored in every tournament.
Of course the United States does itself no favors by falling in love with players like Jack Johnson, but even if the Americans brought a fully optimized roster to the World Cup of Hockey they would be underdogs. There’s nothing wrong with that. Why Americans feel the need to puff out their chests and “talk trash” to a nation that has obliterated the United States at every turn deeply confuses me.
I’m not big on trash talk at the best of times, but when’s the last time you heard an American soccer fan trash talk a German? Right. You can argue the dominance isn’t quite that profound, but you’d be wrong. The only reason the United States can win international tournaments from time to time is the much, much smaller pool of great nations that lie between Canada and the U.S. in hockey talent than lies between America and Germany in soccer talent.
All this isn’t to say you shouldn’t root for the United States in the World Cup of Hockey. Go wild, do your thing. It’s fun to root for your country in these tournaments. But don’t count me among those gearing up for the “big rivalry” on Tuesday. Maybe getting one started with Team North America will be more interesting, and more competitive.