Scott Rintoul: The Names Within the Game
By now you know the deal; just over eight years after Canada and the USA fought for Olympic hockey supremacy in Salt Lake City, the North American ice rivals will settle the score on this side of the border.
No word on whether Brian Burke and Ron Wilson attempted to freeze a US dollar into the ice at GM Place, but the duo would likely give a year’s pay to shock Team Canada in its own barn, as would the rest of the Americans.
With so many stars assembled for this made-for-tv matchup, there is no shortage of storylines for commentators to focus on. Here’s a few that are worth paying attention to no matter where you watch the game on Sunday.
There are numerous players in this game that will resume their relationships as NHL teammates mere hours after this game concludes, but none are more compelling than Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews.
The young guns are the poster boys for the rebirth of hockey in Chicago, but their personalities are as similar as their passports. Kane is the flashy American superstar who’s as quick with his wit as he is with his hands. Toews is the understated Canadian talent whose soft-spoken nature is a stark contrast to the effort he puts forth on a nightly basis.
Toews’ line was used to shut down Alexander Ovechkin and Co. during Canada’s win over Russia, so there’s a decent chance he’ll see a healthy dose of Kane on Sunday. Ditto for Canadian defensemen Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook, who also call Chicago home for most of the year. The Blackhawks’ blue liners aren’t playing in tandem as they were at the outset of the tourney, but it will be interesting to see what unfolds when either gets Kane in the crosshairs in the final.
The third chapter of the Kane subplot involves Canada’s Roberto Luongo, who conceded three goals to #88 in Vancouver’s final playoff game last spring. Luongo gets another crack at Kane in an elimination contest, but this time it’s the Canucks’ keeper that has home ice advantage.
Back to the Future
The 2002 version of this contest was one of the most celebrated achievements in Canadian hockey history and perhaps the toughest pill their American counterparts have ever been forced to swallow.
Six players remain from that memorable matchup, although Martin Brodeur is not expected to factor in this one for Canada. Jarome Iginla was a major factor eight years ago, scoring two goals in Canada’s 5-2 victory and the Calgary captain would love nothing more than to turn back the clock on home soil.
US blue liner Brian Rafalski also tallied in that ’02 tilt and has already been a thorn in Canada’s side this time around, scoring two goals and adding an assist in last Sunday’s 5-3 round robin win. He also currently leads the Olympic tournament in scoring with eight points through the USA’s five games.
Canadian rearguards Scott Niedermayer and Chris Pronger were prominent parts of the group that struck gold earlier this millennium. The pair combined for three points and a +6 rating eight years ago and has even better statistics this time around.
Despite receiving a fair amount of criticism for their play in the tourney, Pronger has five points and is +3 through six games, while Niedermayer has chalked up three points to go along with an identical +3 rating.
The final blast from the past is Chris Drury, who was held off the score sheet in Salt Lake, but has contributed two goals in this year’s tourney. Having already won Stanley Cups, nothing would satisfy both Drury and Rafalski more than flipping the script from ’02 and skating back to the States with a gold medal.
They’re Not Lou-ing, They’re Booing
If you were lucky enough to witness the World Junior tournament here in 2006, you understand the history between American defenseman Jack Johnson and Team Canada.
Just like this year, Johnson’s US squad met Canada in the final game of the round robin portion of the tourney. The Americans needed a win to grab top spot in the pool while Canada needed only a tie. Tied at two in the final minute of the game, the USA pulled its goalie in an effort to earn the necessary result. Canada not only prevented the winning goal, it scored the game-winner into an empty net courtesy forward Steve Downey. Mere moments after the puck crossed the line for a 3-2 victory, Johnson elbowed an unsuspecting Downey in the head, inciting the crowd at the Pacific Coliseum.
Though Downey appeared to embellish the hit to a certain extent, it was still a cheap shot administered by a frustrated young defenseman. The crowd booed Johnson every time he touched the puck for the rest of the tournament, and many Vancouverites continue the practice when Johnson comes to town with the LA Kings.
With a gold medal on the line and a Canadian crowd eager to give its team any possible advantage, Johnson may hear a familiar chorus every time he gains control of the frozen disc.