Why 'Meat Line' Gives Team USA the Edge vs. Canada in Semifinal Showdown

Steve MacfarlaneFeatured ColumnistFebruary 20, 2014

Czech Republic defenseman Michal Rozsival and USA forward David Backes battle for control of the puck during the second period of men's quarterfinal hockey game in Shayba Arena at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2014, in Sochi, Russia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)
Matt Slocum/Associated Press

There's no doubting which team brought the most dough to Sochi.

The Canadian men's Olympic hockey roster adds up to a cool $140,093,332—an average NHL salary cap hit of nearly $6 million per player. That's about $30 million more than semifinal opponent Team USA, which rings in at less than $119 million and an average of $4,791,010.

But Canada is all bread and very little meat at the forward ranks. Its collection of stars have been dry and bland at the Olympic Winter Games thus far. Despite boasting some of the game's biggest stars—as the hefty price tag indicates—there has been something missing through four games at the tournament.

Defensemen Drew Doughty and Shea Weber have scored seven of the team's 13 goals, while big-ticket forwards Sidney Crosby, Jonathan Toews, Corey Perry, Ryan Getzlaf, John Tavares, Martin St. Louis and Rick Nash have combined for nine points between them.

When in drought: Canada's stars not yet shining
Sidney Crosby4022
Jonathan Toews4022
Rick Nash4011
John Tavares4000
Martin St. Louis3000

More troubling than the lack of point production from a four-line collection designed for speed and skill is the fact there is no clear checking line, or any physicality at all, to be found. 

Canada's opponent in Friday's semifinal, on the other hand, has plenty of meat. Specifically, the trio of David Backes, Dustin Brown and Ryan Callahan—appropriately dubbed the Meat Line, presumably because of the heavy way they play, pounding opponents and smothering the other team's stars.

Backes, who joked with ESPN's Scott Burnside about the moniker after a big quarterfinal win over the Czech Republic, leads the way with his size advantage. The other two play bigger than their physical stature: "I'm the beef, Dustin Brown's the pork and Callahan's the chicken, so that's our Meat Line."

In that same article, defenseman Ryan Suter expanded on the line's style of play, which, in addition to wearing the Czechs down over the course of the game, also resulted in a pair of critical first-period goals from Brown and Backes: "They're a tough line to play against. In the NHL, each of them on their own team are tough to play against. Putting them all together makes it extra tough."

Meet the Meat Line
HeightWeightNHL GPNHL Hits
David Backes (Beef)6'3"22152179
Dustin Brown (Pork)6'0"20758187
Ryan Callahan (Chicken)5'11"19042127

Against Canada, the Meat Line gives Team USA a distinct edge. With seven players at or above a point per game in the tournament, the Americans have more scoring punch than they did in 2010 when they met Canada in the gold-medal game only to fall just short in overtime.

When you add a line that packs a heavy punch to that kind of scoring depth, it negates some of the speed and skill Canada chose to bulk up on instead of mixing in a few players who like to throw their weight around.

This is not Don Cherry's Team Canada.

In the games Canada has most struggled in Sochi so far, the blueprint for success against the odds-on favorite to win it all again was pretty much the same: Clog up the middle of the ice, take away their time and space and hit, hit, then hit some more.

Well, that and some pretty stellar goaltending.

The U.S. will follow that same plan, tossing the bash brothers out against any of the Canadian skill lines looking to capitalize on mistakes and tucker out a team that has appeared out of sync at times but never frustrated.

That frustration may finally become apparent in the semifinal. The Meat Line will certainly aspire to that. Hope you enjoy a good BBQ, Sid.

U.S. coach Dan Bylsma didn't say whom he'd match them up against but told Yahoo Sports the Meat Line represents the team's philosophy of hard work and frustrating the opposition.

They all have the same mentality. You watch the game (against the Czechs) and Ryan Callahan absolutely works, tenacious and finds himself in the net and in the corner taking a guy down, physical. David Backes at the net? Hard to play against. Dustin Brown’s not far off that with the way they play. That’s a tough line to play against.

It's the kind of line that can make the difference between playing for gold or playing for bronze.