This game is huge!

TERRY JONES -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 10:18 AM ET

VANCOUVER -- Brent Sutter tried to put the blinders on them. He tried to insert the ear plugs. But from the beginning it's been impossible to ignore the trumpeting elephant in the corner of their dressing room.

"Dec. 31. Dec. 31.

"New Year's Eve. New Year's Eve. Canada-USA. Canada-USA.

"It's 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.

The elephant has now been released.

"It's huge,'' said captain Kyle Chipchura, of Vimy. "The build up to this game 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 sure it's been on our minds. Now it's here. Now it's really on our minds.''

Sometimes those of us who were around for Canada-Russia in 1972 and all those Canada Cups, forget this is a new generation of players. Their Canada-Russia has been Canada-USA. There's that in this, too.

"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 Oilers draft pick Robbie Schremp. "For us, Canada-USA means more than Canada-Russia.''

For many non-partisans this is a game to see how the 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.

'NOT WORRIED'

"I'm not worried about any head-to-head against him. This isn't about the draft,'' said Toews.

It hasn't been pretty, but Canada did manage to get to this game at 3-0. And they did manage to get here giving up only four goals. The Americans have scored more and given up more. And in there somewhere should be the game.

"It's how we play as a team, the discipline in our own game,'' said Sutter.

The problem is how his Canadian kids go into it. There's been so much focus on this game, is there a danger of Sutter's squad being too pumped to play?

Or, considering they've done little to impress in the tournament so 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,'' said Sutter.

MEDAL ROUND

The loser will be forced to play the third place team from the Kamloops-Kelowna pool - quite likely the Czech Republic - in a Monday quarterfinal. 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, this team isn't gathering any votes to be Canada's Team of the Year for a second straight season.

Then again, Sutter is now 9-0 coaching this team and seems to have a very clear idea of what he's 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. "The Norway goalie saw a lot of the shots,'' he said of a day-after reality check on those 50 shots on goal from the night before.''

Bolland said Canada has to grab the game by the throat early.

"We have to take it to them. 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 for this game.

"Like I said, all we've heard is Dec. 31, Dec. 31, New Year's Eve, New Year's Eve, Canada-USA, Canada-USA,'' said Sutter. "Now it's here. This is the game. This is the game. Now that's a good thing.''


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