Olympic Hockey: Team USA on collision course with Team Canada in Sochi

Patrick Kane, Team USA.

Patrick Kane, Team USA. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Four years ago, it was Canada and the United States who warred for gold in Vancouver. At the 2014 Winter Olympic hockey tournament in Sochi, Russia, a gold medal game rematch between hockey’s two North American powerhouses is not possible.

The final seeding for the elimination round in Sochi was finalized today, with America and Canada on the same side of the playoff bracket. In order to compete for a hockey gold medal the North American nations will need to first dance with each other in the semifinals, assuming both defeat their still to be determined quarterfinals opponents.

Team USA has performed impressively thus far in Sochi. They easily disposed of the Slovakians and the Slovenians, and they captivated a nation with a climatic shootout victory over the host Russians. The highlight of America’s win over Russia was the unreal shootout performance of St. Louis Blues forward T. J. Oshie who scored on 4 of 6 attempts in the game deciding skills competition.

Phil Kessel of the Toronto Maple Leafs has starred for the Americans at the 2014 Winter Games. The speedy sniper leads the tournament in points with 7, and is fresh off a natural hat trick against Anze Kopitar and the Slovenians earlier today. Kessel aside, America’s top nine forward group has performed strongly. Head coach Dan Bylsma has entrusted his hope for gold in a complementary combination of grit, skill and speed: Line 1: Zach Parise-Ryan Kesler-Patrick Kane. Line 2: James van Riemsdyk-Joe Pavelski- Phil Kessel. Line 3: Dustin Brown-David Backes-Ryan Callahan. Although, Brown has spent time on Kane’s line; Parise has skated with Backes and Callahan.

Nothing would be sweeter for Team USA than a decisive semifinals win over the Canadians who knocked them silver four years ago. However, before Kane, Kessel and the rest of the Americans can exact revenge on their neighbours to the North, they’ll need to defeat the winner of Tuesday’s showdown between the Czech Republic and Slovakia.

America demolished the Slovaks in its tournament opener, defeating Zdeno Chara and Co. by a commanding 7-1 score. If they meet the Slovaks again, this time in a life and death scenario, expect a much closer game. However, it is probably not the Slovaks that should worry the U.S. hockey team. The Czech Republic pose a threat to America’s dream of gold in Sochi. Should they beat the Slovaks this coming Tuesday they’ll be in full ’98 defence-first mode. And the Czechs have some clutch goal scorers in their lineup, including NHL legend Jaromir Jagr and the 2013 Stanley Cup playoffs leading point scorer, David Krejci.

North America wants another Canada-USA showdown at the Olympics. The Canadians would love to repeat as gold medalists, and thoroughly enjoy defeating their rivals from America in the process. And of course, Team USA is on a mission to upgrade from silver, but defeating their nemesis from Canada would make the feat all the more sweet.

The Americans get either the Czechs or the Slovaks. Canada: the Swiss or the Latvians. Assuming both nations win the games they’re expected to win, we are less than a week away from another Olympic classic between Team Canada and Team USA.

The Sochi hockey semifinals take place this coming Friday. The road has been paved for all four favourites to meet in the semis, unlike previous Olympics where top teams have been forced to face-off in the quarters. For example, in the last two Olympic hockey tournaments, Canada and Russia have met in the final eight, each leaving disappointed once. The chips have fallen favourably in 2014: we could see Sweden vs Russia in one semifinal; Canada vs America in the other. Best on best. That’s why NHL players are at the Olympics.