By the time the work day ends on Friday, North America will once again become a divided continent, for the second time this decade.
Team Canada versus team USA hockey has a certain type of emotion, mood, undeniable intensity, internal dilemma, historical force surrounding it that is not found in any other event or circumstance that exists in all of creation.
On one hand, there is an inherent respect Americans have for their pleasant and kind neighbors to the North- we are militaristic allies, major trade partners and just generally fall on the same page on many international issues. And the same goes for Canadians, there is an understanding of the importance of their partnership with America politically, economically and culturally. We have a symbiotic relationship with deep roots, not only geographically, but ideologically to boot.
But on the other hand, there is an underlying uncertainty and critical mentality that both peoples have for their neighbors that goes well beyond sport, the Olympics, or competition in general. Hockey, Canada’s game, is the catalyst that brings out an ugliness and subtle disdain that truly lays the foundation for this complex and convoluted relationship between Canadians and Americans.
Even the leader of the free world, U.S. President Barack Obama, recognizes just how important this hockey game is in redefining the ever-dynamic partnership between the two countries. During his last trip to our hockey-neutral North American comrades at a summit in Toluca, Mexico, Obama spoke of the significance of this battle on ice via the Chicago Tribune:
For a very brief period of time, I may not feel as warm towards Canadians as I normally do, at least until those matches are over.
This was directly after Obama and Canadian Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, made a gentleman’s wager on the men’s and women’s ice hockey games happening Thursday and Friday in Sochi- a case of beer for the winner of each game. Obama is no stranger to sending one of his staffers out to pick up a 2-4 of Molson, as he delivered a cold case to Harper after Sidney Crosby beat Ryan Miller in the Gold medal match in 2010 in Vancouver.
And although there is no Gold, or any, medal at stake in the contest at Noon est. on Friday, there is no diminishing the fact that this game has more moral and prideful significance than any hockey game that’s been played or will be played in Sochi.
Team USA forward Paul Statsny, a former St Louisan and Chaminade HS grad himself, put the feeling surrounding Friday’s game succinctly and in perspective during an interview with the Denver Post yesterday:
I think it will be the true meaning of intense. You know the guys on Canada, but we don’t like them. And they don’t like us.
When you’re playing with your country, there’s always been a rivalry between the United States and Canada. You don’t look at the names on the back of the uniform. You only look at the logo on the front.
And that quote is what makes these countries come together in hopes of defeating their common enemy. These guys are doing it for each other, for the pride of their heritage and hometowns.
Albeit, it’s a quote coming from a guy who was born in Quebec City, Canada, but that’s a whole other topic and article all together (see: Brett Hull and Alex Steen).
The game Friday at high Noon, will not only divide a continent, but will also have major ego-inflating/deflating implications for the locker room inside the Scottrade Center in downtown St Louis.
There will be five Blues in action, Kevin Shattenkirk, David Backes and international sensation, TJ Oshie, for the Americans going up against the shutdown duo of Canada, work-horse defenseman in Alex Pietrangelo and Jay Bouwmeester.
Phil Kessel has led the American offense, while utilizing his underestimated speed on the big ice, and is atop the list for tournament MVP candidates with 5 goals and 3 assists through the first 4 games. But with no surprise to Blues fans, another candidate and the most consistent and impactful forward on team USA is St Louis Blues captain, David Backes. The American leader has brought a constant physicality and domineering presence to the ice, one that the Americans have lacked in recent tournaments.
The play of Blues’ Backes and Oshie has been paramount in their nations’ success in Russia, and has solidified the US as a Gold medal contender, if not the out right favorite. Las Vegas has a completely even betting line for the game against Canada on Friday, which means it’s 50/50, a complete toss-up according to insanely knowledgable humans and intricate algorithms.
But the Blues American trio will have their hands full with Crosby, Getzlaf, Bergeron, Doughty, Weber, and Petro and J Bow. While the Blues top defensive pair has had limited success offensively, Pietrangelo with 1 assist, they have been vital players in team Canada’s shutdown system, as the team has let up three goals total, in the tournament.
And no doubt there will be hard hits, blocked shots and personal vendettas that are played out, Backes knows how to keep this all in a blue note perspective, via our friends at ProHockeyTalk:
We talk before this tournament started. When we got over there, we’re going to put our country’s colors on and play our butts off, and when we return we’ll put the St Louis Blues’ colors back on and rekindle any relationships we need over a cold beverage, if necessary.
The child-like excitement and anticipation factor is in full force. And as someone who was born in Canada, grew up in the States and has dual citizenship, I am completely overwhelmed and already mentally exhausted as I await lunch time on Friday.
So call in, better yet, email your boss in the morning, fake a sore throat, take a 3-hour long lunch break, keep your kids home from school, fake their sore throat, get all the people you love in one room or one bar, and watch as the best players from Canada face the best players from America for a chance to play for the Olympic Gold medal in Russia.
And just in case you were wondering what colors I’ll be wearing Friday…
GO CANADA GO!
Also a big Bleedin’ Blue shout out to Sweden’s forwards, Alex Steen and Patrik Berglund, as their Swedish mafia will face their neighbors in Finland in the early elimination game Friday morning. It will be a fast-paced, highly skilled battle with a Finnish team looking to prove all their nay-sayers wrong. That game starts at 7 am est, so get the americanos and lattes ready, it’s going to be an epic day of Blues hockey.