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Six Questions: USA vs. Canada for Hockey Gold — Olympics — 2010 …

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1267468221 Six Questions: USA vs. Canada for Hockey Gold    Olympics    2010 ...Throughout the Olympic hockey tournament, FanHouse’s Bruce Ciskie has been following Team USA and Chris Botta has covered Canada. With the North American rivals squaring off for the gold medal on Sunday at 3:00 p.m. ET, Ciskie and Botta address the big questions entering the game and make their predictions.

The biggest hockey tournament the world has ever seen comes down to two North American teams. the United States (5-0 in the Olympics) entered the tournament as a dark horse to medal, and now the worst they can get is silver.

Their opponent is rival Canada (5-1), a team the United States beat, 5-3, in the preliminary round, but one that is equipped to gain revenge in a higher-stakes game than the first meeting.

Does the game rest almost entirely on the shoulders of goalies Ryan Miller and Roberto Luongo?

Chris Botta: the goalies are always going to be the biggest part of the equation in Game 7s or gold medal games, but they can’t be the whole story on Sunday. That’s too simple an analysis, one I’m sure you’ll read and hear a lot before the opening faceoff.

my expectation is the storylines will also be about the brilliant skaters on each side. no matter which side wins, I’d like to see another star performance from Sidney Crosby or a terrific young kid like Jonathan Toews. I want more people (outside of new York/New Jersey and Minnesota) to learn more about Zach Parise. Maybe Patrick Kane has the sort of breakout that makes him a household name beyond NHL borders. I trust it will happen. the U.S. cannot rely on Ryan Miller for a second incredible game, and Canada would be making a mistake to put too much on Luongo.

Bruce Ciskie: This is how big games work. the goalies take way too much of the blame when their team loses. Look at Friday. Blame Miikka Kiprusoff all you want, and you wouldn’t be wrong, but you have to pin a good chunk of the responsibility on his teammates, who didn’t move their feet, didn’t compete and got flat-out embarrassed.

Outside of that, the other easy answer in a big game is special teams. the Americans were pretty weak on the power play Sunday, outside of one play that led to their fourth goal. And they looked awful on the power play for the first three chances they had against Switzerland (no shots). This simply can’t happen again in the gold medal game.

Meanwhile, the Americans blocked something like 475 Canadian shots (or, maybe, 28) in that first meeting. when you’re killing a penalty, you need a goalie to be at his best, and you need to have guys willing to sell out and block shots. Team USA has both of those things, and if they can win the special teams battle, they’ve taken a mighty huge step toward gold.

(Sidebar: I live in Minnesota, and I wish more people in Minnesota knew about Parise. he was one of those players that you knew would be special, even while watching him in college.)

Heatley: Canadians ‘Confident’:
on the eve of the gold medal game against USA, Canada star Dany Heatley discusses the Canadian mindset and what they have to do to win.
Susan Slusser

Too Close to Call:
the gold medal game between USA and Canada is so close on paper that predictions are tough. One thing’s for sure: it’s bound to be an instant classic.
Christopher BottaWhat’s the mindset of Team USA entering the game? Do they still have nothing to lose?

Botta: They are going to feel some pressure. Canada hadn’t even played its semifinal against Slovakia and we were already hearing predictions that the U.S. would beat Canada again. What a difference a week makes, huh Bruce?

Despite the pressure-packed atmosphere, Brian Burke and Ron Wilson and the locker room leadership have played this entire tournament perfectly. For one more game, they’ll hit the ice believing they are the underdog. They’ll relish the crowd being against them. the U.S. has already won silver (at least) and dopes like me never thought they’d medal. the young players will have some butterflies early on, but I think they’re going to have a lot of fun for 60 or 70 minutes.

Ciskie: They still have nothing to lose. I’m right there with people who didn’t think this team would medal, but I felt they had a good shot, especially if Miller played well. just because they’re guaranteed at least silver doesn’t mean they will forget that no one thought they had a prayer of being in this position.

You’re right, Chris, in that this team has handled things almost perfectly. They were also constructed almost perfectly, and that work has helped immensely in getting Team USA into this position. the leadership in that room will make sure the guys are ready to play, and hopefully they can continue to avoid being overly hyped up for games. They’ve had a good energy level for every game, and that’s a credit to Wilson, captain Jamie Langenbrunner and the other leaders on the team.

Does either team have a physical edge?

Botta: Yes, the young men from the United States of America. I have to say, Bruce, I have been so impressed with the consistently tenacious play by the Americans in this tournament. Burke and his management committee went after a true team with players assigned to certain roles, and it has paid off. Tim Gleason, Brooks Orpik, Ryan Kesler, Ryan Malone, David Backes, Dustin Brown … their physical play is one of the biggest reasons why Team USA can beat Canada a second time.

Ciskie: People want to know how Russia melted down so badly, and it came down to two basic problems. outside of a few elite players, they couldn’t skate with the Canadians, and they weren’t physical at all. the Americans might not have Canada’s top-line speed, but they can skate with these guys, and they’re not afraid to hit people.

Ever since the August camp, the design has been for Team USA to be physical. Mission accomplished.

The task now will be to maintain the same poise they’ve played with throughout the tournament. There is a line you can’t cross when you play this kind of hockey, and the boys have done a great job of avoiding it so far. you can’t afford — no matter the stakes — to put yourself in a position to start a parade to the penalty box. that should never stop you from being physical, but it does mean you have to be smart.

Is it a devastating loss, an epic failure, if Team Canada comes up short?

Botta: I would have thought that a few weeks ago, but not anymore. I believe the stories of Brendan Burke and Joannie Rochette have given these Olympics a sense of perspective. just a few days ago, after Canada needed a shootout against Switzerland and lost to the U.S., a lot of people didn’t think they could even make the gold medal game. There will definitely be major disappointment if Canada loses, but it will not “suck to win silver.” especially if Ryan Miller does happen to steal another one, there will not be any shame. most of all, this has been an amazing hockey tournament. With one game left, the Olympic hockey has exceeded expectations.

Ciskie: sorry, but there is an expectation here. I get what you’re saying, but there is a team playing with house money, and there is a team that can’t afford to lose. We both know who those teams are.

Team Canada has all the pressure to win, but they’ve handled it fairly well so far in the knockout round. They took it to Germany, as expected, but then throttled Russia. Only Friday against the Slovaks did Canada begin to show some cracks. it looks like they can still be frustrated by tough defensive zone play and good goaltending, and that’s what Slovakia brought to the table.

With everything on the line, Canada needs to buckle those chinstraps and prepare for 60 minutes of insanity. the crowd will be crazy, the opponent will be ready, and it’s unlikely that bad defense and goaltending on USA’s behalf will be there to bail Canada out if they don’t play strong hockey for the full game.

It will not be a miracle, but winning gold … would make this the grandest achievement for USA Hockey in this generation. Whereas the win last Sunday was over-hyped, there will be no hyperbole if the U.S. takes home the gold in this fashion. For all the pre-Olympic talk about “owning the podium,” the Canadians have done a good job handling a relative lack of success in other sports. They won’t take well to a third national team losing a 2010 gold medal game to the United States on Canadian soil.

What will it mean if the U.S. wins?

Botta: it will not be a miracle, but winning gold — and beating the Canadians on their home ice twice in eight days — would make this the grandest achievement for USA Hockey in this generation. Whereas the win last Sunday was over-hyped, there will be no hyperbole if the U.S. takes home the gold in this fashion.

Ciskie: Looking at the big picture for USA Hockey, this would be the mecca. as I just mentioned, a win Sunday would make the third time this year that a United States team has beaten Canada for a gold medal on Canadian soil. This was a pipe dream as recently as December 2009, but it’s a real possibility now.

Any American who works with people from north of the border will thoroughly enjoy the moment, and it could be a huge part of resurrecting interest in the sport in the United States. sure, ratings are up for the NHL, but a gold medal on such a big stage would be a potential shot in the arm in many ways.

As far as individuals, there might not be a bigger meaning for anyone than Burke. It’s not about his stature as a great team-builder. It’s about the path he took to get to this moment, and what he has been through emotionally in the last three weeks. Don’t kid yourself: the players know what this gold would mean for Burke, and he’s a part of their motivation to win Sunday.

As if they didn’t already have enough.

USA-Canada … who ya got?

Botta: my pick entering the Olympics was Canada. I stuck with them in a column after their loss to the U.S. on Sunday. if Luongo can make a few big saves early and get warmed up, Canada will be all right. I’m an American and very proud of the 2010 U.S. Olympic hockey team. my pick is Canada 5, USA 3.

Ciskie: I picked Canada in the first game, and I’m going to pick them again. They have more talent across their four lines. They’ve worked harder in the games since the loss Sunday. not only that, but they have the home crowd, and they have a smart coach in Mike Babcock who can overcome Wilson getting the last change and the choice of matchups.

I’ll reluctantly take Canada, but I think this goes overtime. Possibly to a shootout, too. I’ll say Canada 4, USA 3.

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