VANCOUVER -- Brent Sutter tried to put the blinders on them. He tried to insert the ear plugs.
But from the beginning, it has been impossible to ignore the trumpeting elephant in the corner of their dressing room:
New Year's Eve.
"It has been the talk with everybody since the beginning -- the fans, the media. We've heard it with everybody we've seen, everywhere we've been," said Sutter, Team Canada's coach here at the world junior tournament.
The elephant has been released.
"This game is huge," said team captain Kyle Chipchura.
"The build up has been huge since the tournament began. It's going to be amazing. We've tried to put our focus elsewhere until it got here, but it has been on our minds. Now it's here. Now it's really on our minds."
Those of us who were around for Canada-Russia in 1972 and all those Canada Cups at times forget this is a new generation of players.
Their Canada-Russia has been Canada-USA.
"It's always going to be a big game when it's Canada-USA,'' said David Bolland of the London Knights, who plays on the same line as Team USA star Robbie Schremp. "For us, Canada-USA means more than Canada-Russia."
For many non-partisans, this is a game to see how top U.S. talent like Phil Kessel stacks up against Canadian intensity. And there are a few scouts looking ahead to the draft who want to see how Canada's 17-year-old Jonathan Toews looks on the same ice surface as Kessel.
"I'm not worried about any head-to-head against him. This isn't about the draft," Toews said.
It hasn't been pretty, but Canada has managed to get to this game with a perfect 3-0 record. And they did manage to get here giving up only four goals. The Americans have scored more and given up more. In there somewhere should be the game.
"It's how we play as a team, the discipline in our own game," Sutter said.
The problem is how his Canadian kids go into it. There has been so much focus on this game -- the most talented team in the tournament, the favoured Americans, against the defending world junior champions on Canadian ice -- that there a danger of Sutter's squad being too pumped to play.
Or, considering they've done little to impress in the tournament thus far, is the timing of a game like this perfect to tap the famed emotion and passion of Canadian players?
"Obviously the team knows the importance of the game. Whether the kids get too high or too uptight ... we'll see what they're like during the day," Sutter said.
The loser will be forced to play the third-place team from the Kamloops-Kelowna pool -- quite likely the Czech Republic -- in a Monday quarter final.
Lose that, and you're out of the tournament.
The winner makes it to the medal round and can do no worse than end up in the bronze-medal game on the final day of the tournament.
After a 4-3 win over Switzerland and a 4-0 win over Norway, the young Canadians aren't gathering any votes to be Canada's team of the year for a second straight season.
Then again, Sutter is 9-0 coaching this team and seems to have a very clear idea of what he is dealing with here.
What he'll be preaching today is playing the Canadian game.
"This will be about having guys who want to get to the net and wanting to pay the price," he said, crossing his fingers that they'll get a referee who will allow them to play the game.
"The Norway goalie saw a lot of the shots," he said.
Bolland said Canada has to grab the game by the throat early.
"We have to take it to them," he said. "We can't let them have their space. We have to get more guys to the front of the net. We have to get loose pucks and get to the loose pucks."
Sounds like a plan.
But finally getting to this game may mean more than the game plan itself.
"All we've heard is Dec. 31, New Year's Eve, Canada-USA, Canada-USA," Sutter said.
"Now it's here. And that's a good thing.''