When everyone's two favorite North-American hockey nations take to the ice Sunday afternoon, there will be a lot more than the gold medal on the line… and no one knows it better than the players themselves.
It really is hard to believe that the National Hockey League players that make up both sides are in it for the gold medals they will earn with a victory, or the modest bonus at least the Canadian players would earn as a result ($20,000 each; not sure if the Americans get anything, although I would assume they would). We're talking about professionals who earn on average upwards of 100 times that amount per year. So, yeah, they'll be playing for bragging rights over NHL teammates, and, more than that, bragging rights on an international scale.
In many ways it is kind of eye-opening to think that pretty much all of Canada (yours truly included) will be glued to their television sets for a simple game. It isn't quite as shocking when one realizes that hockey is the game Canadians take the most pride in. Yeah, lacrosse is our national sport, but it's lacrosse. This isn't meant to offend lacrosse enthusiasts, but who needs a cross between basketball (also Canadian in origin, by the way) and hockey, when you've got just hockey?
For the United States of America, they'll likely be playing for revenge, eight years after Canada won double gold in Salt Lake City. There would be no more fitting way to get back at their neighbors to the north than by winning the gold on Canadian soil. Still, to put any American theorists thinking an American victory is destined tomorrow in their place: the Canadian women beat the U.S. just a few short days ago once again for their third-straight Olympic gold medal (the team also won in Salt Lake City). Nothing is pre-ordained… anything can happen.
That being said, anybody who's anybody has to think Canada has the edge, that is aside from in goal, which I would consider a wash (it's true that Ryan Miller beat Martin Brodeur in the preliminary round, but Roberto Luongo will be in nets).
Consider that Canada has essentially four number-one lines to America's two, more experience throughout the roster, and a whole nation cheering the team on from the stands. True, the U.S. was the home team eight years ago, but, as television ratings will show, who cares about hockey in the States (again, no offense to actual American hockey fans, but you probably make up like 4|PERCENT| of your national population)?
And, oh, yeah, after the U.S. beat Canada 5-3 in the first matchup between the two teams this tournament, Canada's very, very angry.
I'd personally ask the American hockey team to let us have this one (it would be plenty awesome to close out these Olympics with a gold medal in hockey, our sport), but I'm pretty sure I don't need to. Sure, anything can happen, but it won't.
Bold prediction: 4-1 Canada; Sidney Crosby nets two goals, with Ryan Getzlaf and Scott Niedermayer getting the other two; Patrick Kane responds for the U.S. in the dying minutes to steal the shutout bid from Luongo, but he won't care; Canada wins men's hockey gold.
(okay, maybe it is a little pre-ordained)