By Steve Silverman
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The United States is not playing for respect or to prove that it belongs anymore.
Those days are long gone. The United States is the best of the four teams that remain alive in the Olympic hockey tournament, and it should be able to get revenge on Canada in the semifinals and then beat either Finland or Sweden in the gold-medal game.
Back in 1980 the United States authored the greatest sports upset of the 20th century when it beat the superb Soviet hockey team in the semifinal game. That was accomplished because of the spectacular effort of the college players that made up that team and the brilliant coaching of Herb Brooks.
However, nobody ever thought that American college kids like Mike Eruzione, Jim Craig, Jack O’Callahan and Mark Johnson were in the same category of the top Soviet players. Those same players had trounced NHL All-Stars one year prior to the Olympics and were clearly the best team in the world — except on that one day in Lake Placid.
But now it’s different. The United States simply has the best and deepest team in the competition. The Canadians have great skill among their forwards, at least by reputation. However, they have not scored many goals in this tournament. After beating Latvia — LATVIA!! — 2-1, the Canadians were breathing a sigh of relief that they didn’t get knocked out of the tournament and weren’t humiliated beyond belief.
But in a certain way, it might have been better for the Canadians to lose to the Latvians and then write it off as a complete fluke.
When they have to face off against the Americans, they know that they have to come with their best effort and find a way to get the edge on the U.S. speed at the forward position and the nastiness on the blue line.
There’s also one problem for the Canadians that has been waiting to be exposed: their weakness in goal.
The Canadians have made Carey Price of the Montreal Canadiens their No. 1 goalie, and he has had a fine regular season with a 2.33 goals-against average and a .925 save percentage. But Price is the same goalie who was bombed out of the playoffs by the Ottawa Senators last spring, and his playoff history is poor.
The Americans are more skilled at hockey than the Canadians, and this idea is galling to our neighbors to the north.
They believe it is their birthright to be the best at the world at hockey because it is “their game.”
When the United States pushed the Canadians to the brink in Vancouver in 2010, that was the result of a nearly superhuman effort by the Americans to stay with the standard bearers of the game. But this time it’s different. The personnel is the big equalizer, and there’s no way that Canada can look at its roster and claim superiority over the Americans.
Especially since Sidney Crosby is not producing. He has not scored a goal in the Olympics, while Phil Kessel has been lighting it up regularly for the Americans.
The Canadians have been getting their goals from their defensemen, and if Shea Weber didn’t rescue them against Latvia, they might have gone back home with their heads hanging.
The Americans have the gritty guys in Ryan Callahan and Derick Stepan, the high-end talent in Kessel and Zach Parise, the defense in Ryan McDonagh and Ryan Suter and the goaltending in Jonathan Quick.
The Canadians have plenty of offensive talent, but players like Crosby, Rick Nash and Jonathan Toews are not functioning at their best. While Weber and Drew Doughty can light it up from the blue line, the rest of the defense is not as impressive.
The Canadians are ripe for the taking. The Americans know it, and the Canadians are about to find it out.
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