In light of tonight's much-anticipated match-up that pits Canada against the United States of America, it occurs to me that we might be bearing witness to a preview of the gold-medal game later on in the tournament.
Of course, if I had my way, the final game wouldn't feature both teams, just the Canadian side (I am Canadian, after all). No offense to the Americans, but after Salt Lake City in 2002, there's just a sense of "been there, done that".
Also, a Canada-U.S. final may be all well and good for women's hockey, as no other teams come close to their competitive level, but, in men's hockey, the U.S.A. may currently be winning games, but they are a heavy underdog, and their roster just isn't as deep as those of some of the other teams.
And, yeah, Russia may have the depth, but after Canada clobbered – absolutely clobbered! - The Soviet Union four games to three (it just looks closer than it really was, of course) in the Summit Series in 1972, there's also a sense that Canada has already beaten them on the international stage. And, really, who wants to face the likes of Alexander Ovechkin, Evgeni Nabokov, and, dare I say (oh, I dare), former Montreal Canadiens prospect Konstantin Korneev!!! The horror!
So, who's left? Switzerland? They did upset Canada 2-0 in Turin four years ago, but, as much as I would love Canada to face the Swiss in the final in this hypothetical scenario, Sidney Crosby and Company already exorcised their demons following their 3-2 preliminary round shootout victory (again, it just looks a lot close than it really was… I mean it this time!) a few days ago against the country that brought us neutrality, Mark Streit, and fine chocolate.
No, for this gold-medal game to be extra sweet, Canada would have to face a team whose last victory against us left such a bitter taste in our mouths that the heartbreak still remains to this day, 12 years after it went down. I am of course talking about the Czech Republic, the country that eliminated Canada at the 1998 Olympic Games in Nagano, Japan.
When I lie awake at night, I don't think about money problems, my lack of a social life (someone has to write these blog posts), or the evil monkey in my closet (okay, I may have stolen that one). No, I think about announcer Bob Cole uttering the words that would forever after haunt every Canadian, referring to Brendan Shanahan facing Domink Hasek in the shootout round that sealed Canada's fate those Games:
"He's gotta score. That's all!"
And as Shanahan failed to lift the puck over a bellyflopping Hasek:
"No, he can't do it."
And, with that, with Wayne Gretzky still on the bench, head coach Marc Crawford electing not to have him shoot, the Great One's Olympic dreams evaporated right before him. The image of him sitting on the bench, a glazed-over look in his eyes is still crystal clear in my memory. If only we knew what he had been thinking at the moment in time, we would perhaps garner some insight into the fragility of the human condition. My money would be on: "Jesus Christ! Why the hell didn't Crawford pick me to shoot????? I'm the Great One for crying out loud!!!!!"
Canada did beat the Czechs in the preliminary Round in Turin and tied them in Salt Lake City, but, still, that defeat in Nagano was so hard to digest that I personally want the Czechs, all of them, to suffer the way I did as a 12-year-old all those years ago – melodramatically.
Yes, the Czechs this time around are perhaps not the deepest team in nets, with the Atlanta Thrashers's Ondrej Pavelec, some guy named Jakub Stepanek (my apologies to Stepanek's family and friends; I'm sure he's a very nice guy and all, just some guy nonetheless), and the Florida Panthers's Tomas Vokoun all defending the goal line. Still, no one can deny that Vokoun is a top-end goaltender, and all you need is one. Hell, bring back the Dominator if you feel so inclined. I would love to see Canada light up the 45-year-old. It's not like he's not willing to don the equipment again. Any added advantage that will allow me to quench my thirst for revenge over a decade after the fact.
In any case, they've also got the likes of genuine National Hockey Leaguers in Tomas Kaberle, Filip Kuba, Pavel Kubina, Zbynek Michalek, Roman Polak, and Marek Zidlicky on defense.
On offense, there's at least two very decent lines with the team boasting Patrik Elias, Martin Erat, Tomas Fleischmann, Martin Havlat, Jaromir Jagr, David Krejci, Milan Michalek and, dare I say (you bet I do), current Montreal Canadiens most valuable player Tomas Plekanec.
Admittedly, this dream match-up of mine may not even be possible. I don't really know what the pairings will be come the medal round, but the Czechs are in first place in their division right now and that's good enough for me.
Bold prediction (assuming this game actually takes place): 7-2 for Canada (I never said it would be close; Why else do you really think I didn't pick Russia??? Like I did say before, I am Canadian, after all).