Supposed hockey rivals U.S. and Canada are killing us with kindness
BY RICK MORRISSEY Staff Columnist February 20, 2014 10:31PM
SOCHI, RUSSIA - FEBRUARY 19: Patrick Kane #88 of the United States skates against the Czech Republic during the Men's Ice Hockey Quarterfinal Playoff on Day 12 of the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics at Shayba Arena on February 19, 2014 in Sochi, Russia. (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images) ORG XMIT: 461427027
Updated: March 22, 2014 6:44AM
SOCHI, Russia — This is when you wish hockey players were trash talkers.
The United States will face Canada on a sheet of ice Friday night for the chance to play for an Olympic gold medal. It’s about as big as a hockey game can get. It would make for much more drama if puck relations between the two countries were under a frost warning, but there doesn’t appear to be one in sight. A mutual respect is pervasive here, which is fine if you’re into that sort of thing.
The rivalry could be helped along by an American player saying of Canada: “That’s not a country. That’s a snow bank.”
Or a Canadian saying: “My 2-year-old can skate better than those guys. And he’s a three-legged sled dog.’’
Something to capture the depth of bad feelings between the two countries. One problem: There doesn’t appear to be any bad feelings.
So, no trash. Not even any accidental littering. Canada is responsible for giving the world Justin Bieber, but I didn’t hear one American player point that out after practice Thursday. What a wasted opportunity.
“You’ve got to respect them, but at the same time, we have a chance to try to prove that we’re in the same sentence with Canada,’’ Blackhawks wing Patrick Kane said. “That’s something USA Hockey has been trying to do for a long time, is prove that we can play with the Canadians and the Russians and the Swedes and Finns consistently on a tournament basis. We have that chance [Friday]. Hopefully we can take advantage of it.’’
Patrick, you are in the same sentence with Canada. It’s a one-sentence love note.
“We know we’ve got a good hockey team in front of us, and we’ve got to play our ‘A’ game,’’ Canada’s Ryan Getzlaf said.
This game is for bragging rights, not that anyone ever brags in hockey.
I’m sure it bugs the Canadians to no end that we’ve taken their biggest export, hockey, and made it ours. We’ve caught up to them in hockey in the last decade. Not all the way, not yet, but we’re close.
But you won’t hear the Canadians take the bait, not that there is any to take. The Hawks’ Jonathan Toews, one of Canada’s alternate captains, talked about the “animosity’’ between the two teams, the farthest anyone has been willing to go. But, frankly, even that’s a stretch. Players from both teams are NHL teammates or have been teammates. Some share agents. If there’s animosity, it’s doing a pretty good imitation of admiration.
The U.S. beat Canada in pool play in the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, then lost a rematch in overtime in the gold-medal game.
This feels more like a big brother-little brother rivalry, and Canada would like to let the Americans know who’s who. Toews never misses a chance to remind Kane who owns a gold medal from Vancouver and who doesn’t. But it has never gotten beyond the teasing stage.
“I want to beat them so badly,’’ Canada’s Drew Doughty said.
Yes, Drew, but how badly? Beyond recognition? So badly that the U.S. skulks back to its life of conspicuous consumption? Please expound.
I know, I know: This will be settled on the ice, and there will be no doubt about where relations stand afterward.
Whoever advances will face the winner of Sweden-Finland for the gold medal on Sunday. Too bad the U.S.-Canada game doesn’t decide the gold. Then again, there’s a good chance it will, in essence.
“It seems like we were on a crash course to meet those guys, and we get them in the semifinal instead of the final, which would have been a little more storybook, to get that rivalry rekindled,’’ American David Backes said. “But to win the gold medal, you’re going to have to beat the best teams in this tournament.’’
They are the two top teams, at least on paper. Canada is perhaps the deepest team ever put together, a dense cluster of stars. The United States is talented, too, but perhaps more of a true team than the Canadians.
The teams are connected at the cliché.
“There’s always something special when it’s a U.S.-Canada game,’’ American Zach Parise said. ‘‘But at the same time, for us it’s about getting back, trying to get back into that gold-medal game regardless of who we’re playing against.’’
This isn’t a cold war of words. It’s lukewarm soup. Sigh. On the other hand, how can anyone be mad at Canada?