The USA men's hockey team has played the best of any country thus far at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. Friday presents an opportunity for revenge in the semifinal for the Americans when they take on Canada.
After losing to the hosting Canadians in the 2010 gold-medal game in Vancouver, the U.S. will finally get another crack at knocking off their rival—this time not playing in enemy territory. With the offensive firepower the U.S. has shown off in the tournament and the lethargy on display from Canada throughout, all signs point to the Americans advancing to the final.
USA coach Dan Bylsma implied that his club wanted another shot at the Canadians after crushing the Czech Republic 5-2 to advance past the quarterfinals on Wednesday, per USA Hockey's official Twitter account:
Canada has yet to put together a truly complete game, which is somewhat of a concern considering the depth their side has on the front line. But that loaded roster is something the Canadians haven't capitalized on, while the U.S. has been filling up the net in the meantime.
Toronto Maple Leafs star Phil Kessel plays in the NHL north of the border, but thankfully for the U.S. he is on their side in international competition. Kessel has lit it up on the Olympic stage, scoring five of the team's 20 goals.
Jonas Siegel of TSN pointed out how Kessel alone is just one goal shy of the scoring total the Canada forwards have managed in the Winter Games:
Phil Kessel has five goals now for the US. Canadian forwards by comparison have six combined.— Jonas Siegel (@jonasTSN1050) February 19, 2014
That gives an idea of the disparity in production going on, and the Canadians barely even advanced to the semifinals in beating Latvia 2-1, whose skill level simply doesn't match up with the caliber of teams in Friday's showdown.
CBC News' Peter Mansbridge offered a humorous take on how much better Canada was supposed to be in terms of their talent pool:
Canada beats Latvia 149,000,000 to 6,000,000. Oh sorry that was in salaries. In goals 2-1. But hey, a win's a win.— Peter Mansbridge (@petermansbridge) February 19, 2014
Credit Latvia for fighting to the end, but this was yet another discouraging sign for the Canadians. It is also proof that they aren't ready to take on an American team in such strong form.
Who will win Friday's semifinal?
In Vancouver, current USA captain Zach Parise scored the tying goal with less than 30 seconds remaining to force overtime before Canada won it in sudden-death overtime. If the previous games in the Sochi tournament are any indication, this contest shouldn't be all that close.
The Canadians are due for a strong outing, and it stands to reason that prolific scorers such as Sidney Crosby, Rick Nash and others will step up. Then again, they couldn't find the net more than twice against the Latvians despite out-shooting them 57-16. It's been defensemen who have shouldered the offensive load for Canada.
Drew Doughty scored both goals in a 2-1 overtime win over Finland in the preliminary round, and blue-liner Shea Weber scored the game-winner versus Latvia on Wednesday.
Plenty of hype will engulf the Bolshoy Ice Dome when USA and Canada take the ice for a Friday face-off, but the Americans are undoubtedly the better team at the moment. In what should be a hard-fought, competitive clash, the U.S.'s superior offense will cause the Canadians to crumble.
Prediction: USA 4, Canada 2