Canada, USA growing puck rivals

By STEVE SIMMONS, QMI Agency

VANCOUVER — For almost all the members of Team USA, the Miracle on Ice is a piece of history, a movie Kurt Russell starred in, a reason one of their teammates has the first name Brooks.

But it’s not a tangible part of their memories. Most of them weren’t born in 1980.

“It’s not their history,” said David Poile, the assistant general manager of Team USA. “The Americans won a gold medal in hockey in 1980. That was 30 years ago. And we won gold in 1960. That’s 50 years ago. It’s great to talk about history. It’s better to be part of some.”

Those are fighting words. And a not so funny thing has happened on the way to Sunday’s Team Canada-Team USA match in the Olympic hockey tournament. This American team didn’t grow up thinking that Russia was their hockey enemy. Most of their early hockey memories, in minor hockey tournaments, in world junior events, in anything international comes with a Canada vs. USA flavour — the ever-growing hockey rivalry that is expanding every year.

Maybe the new great rivalry in the sport.

“In order to have a rivalry, you have to win some (games),” said Poile. “We’ve had some wins, they’ve had some wins. It’s made the rivalry that much better. And really, it’s just beginning and growing.”

The U.S. won the World Cup of hockey in 1996, defeating Canada in the finals.

Canada won the gold medal in Salt Lake City in 2002, beating the Americans.

And so it has gone: The most recent example being a Canadian shootout win on New Year’s Eve, followed by the gold medal loss at the World Junior tournament in Saskatoon last month.

This isn’t 1980 anymore. This isn’t a pickup team of hungry American college kids taking on the world’s best. This is Patrick Kane and Erik Johnson, first picks in the NHL draft, and this is Bobby Ryan and Jack Johnson, second picks. This is more than half a team of first round picks — and most of the rest should have been first rounders.

“There’s a lot of talent in the U.S. right now” said Team Canada executive director Steve Yzerman. “This is a legitimate rivarly and they’re a legitimate rival.

“The game is growing in the States and we can bad mouth the NHL that we’re in all these bad markets, but what’s happened in those markets is you’re starting to see hockey players developed. You’re starting to see players from Calfornia and St. Louis and other places where there were no players before.”

And what is also being seen are second-generation players like Zach Parise, whose father J.P. played for Team Canada, and Paul Statsny, whose father was an international star for three different countries, none of them being USA. Add that to a lineup that has Ryan Malone, son of Greg, and Ryan Suter, whose father Bob played for the Miracle on Ice team five years before he was born, and this is a new and different American team.

Canada has not played the U.S. at the Olympic hockey tournament since the 2002 final. The countries didn’t meet in Turin or Nagano and did not meet in Lake Placid in 1980. But they will meet Sunday, and maybe again in the playoff round.

“This is a huge game for us,” said Yzerman, partly because it’s a game that will determine playoff seeding and partly because the strength of the opponent will help determine just how far the Canadians have progressed in a very short time. “They want something, we want something.”

This is a rivalry just getting started.

steve.simmons@sunmedia.ca

TOP 5 CANADA-USA HOCKEY MOMENTS

2010 — USA defeats Team Canada in final of world junior tournament

2007 — Canada defats USA in semifinals of world juniors, with Jonathan Toews scoring three shootout goals

2004 — USA defeats Canada for first time in final of world junior tournament

2002 — Team Canada defeats USA for Olympic gold medal

1996 — USA, coached by Ron Wilson, defeats Canada in World Cup final

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