It's tough for an American to get angry at a Canadian, much less feel full-blown contempt. But that will change on Friday, when the U.S. hockey team takes the ice against our neighbors to the north in an Olympic semifinal that's certain to feel like a gold-medal game.
Most days, Canada seems as benign as a seldom-seen first cousin whose family lives somewhere north of Buffalo and cheerfully begs you to come ice fishing every winter. But on Friday, the mere sight of Canadians on skates will make American blood boil with memories of 2010.
That's when Canada, playing at home in Vancouver, won a desperate tug-of-war for the gold in overtime on a Sidney Crosby goal.
What made the outcome so painful for Americans was that the gritty U.S. squad had battled back from a 2-0 deficit and seemed fated to deliver the nation's best Olympic hockey moment since 1980's Miracle on Ice.
Instead, Canada was just a tad better in a riveting game that matched two fast-paced and physical teams that forechecked at every opportunity. It was the kind of game that made even non-hockey fans sit and stare.
But when Crosby's goal found the net, Sid the Kid might as well have been Jack the Ripper to most Americans.
“There’s a lot of Canadians in our league so we want a better outcome than Vancouver,” U.S. forward Max Pacioretty said (via Eric Matuszewski of Bloomberg.com). “No matter what, someone is going to hear about it for the next four years.”
For the U.S., avenging the 2010 defeat—especially after beating Canada, 5-3, in Vancouver's preliminary rounds—also is a final step toward saying the American game is as good as the one that was built by Canadian superstars, from Maurice Richard and Gordie Howe, to Mario Lemieux and Wayne Gretzky.
"It's a team that you want to be able to beat to say that you played through the best," U.S. forward Patrick Kane said, according to The Associated Press' Greg Beacham (via ABCNews.com). "You've got to respect them, but at the same time, we have a chance to prove we're in the same sentence with Canada."
Another nagging source of frustration for the U.S. is that, for the last two decades, American teams have owned the ultimate symbol of hockey success, the Stanley Cup. The last Canadian team to take possession was the Montreal Canadiens, way back in 1993.
But Canadians will be quick to tell you that Detroit, Pittsburgh, Chicago and all the other U.S. teams that have won during that stretch couldn't have done it without manpower culled from their provinces.
Winning at Vancouver would have been fitting payback for the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics, when Canada ruined the American quest to reign on home ice.
Time hasn't healed those wounds and they only deepened Thursday in Sochi, when the U.S. women suffered a finals loss to Canada that was so heartbreaking it will make the flight home seem longer than a trip to Mars.
Up 2-0 and ready to shed tears while "The Star Spangled Banner" played, the U.S. women instead were ambushed in the final 3:26 of regulation by a pair of Canadian goals and dragged into overtime. There, the Canadian women prevailed against the U.S., just as they also did in the 2002 and 2010 Olympic finals.
Give the women of both nations credit for throwing more logs on the fire of this already white-hot rivalry. As U.S. forward Meghan Duggan said before the final, anytime these two teams play, "there's blood in the water." (via Sharon Terlep of The Wall Street Journal.)
For the Canadian women, another bit of permanent bulletin-board material stems from 2002, when there was a rumor that the American women were using the Canadian flag as a doormat in their locker room.
U.S. captain Cammi Granato denied that was the case, but Canadian MVP Hayley Wickenheiser took it to be truth, and after the gold-medal game said, “The Americans had our flag on the floor in their dressing room, and now I want to know if they want us to sign it!”
It wasn't the first time Canadians were angered by U.S. treatment of their flag at a sports venue.
Before Game 2 of the 1992 World Series between the Toronto Blue Jays and the Atlanta Braves, a Marine Corps color guard in Atlanta marched out with the Canadian flag hanging upside down. It obviously wasn't intentional, but Canadians cried foul.
If such incidents make Canadians feel they get second-class treatment from the U.S., you can't blame them for wanting to vent that frustration via the fitting avenue of hockey mayhem.
We tend to give Canada credit for Celine Dion, cool-looking Mounties and strong beer, and not much else. Most of us don't know Ottawa is the capital of Canada, and we don't think twice about the spelling of Grey Cup, if indeed we think of the Canadian Football League at all.
Accordingly, Canadians no doubt have derived limitless joy from maintaining a stranglehold on supremacy in their national sport. And doing so at America's expense has to be much more satisfying than clinching the gold against any other nation. It would be tough for Canadians in Toronto or Montreal to inflict bragging rights on Russia or Sweden, but there's always an American handy when they want to rub it in.
Now, the Sochi stage is set for another memorable showdown. With a noon ET start, plenty of people will be watching online at work. American optimism should be fueled by the U.S. having the highest-scoring offense in Sochi, and also by seeing Canada struggle to get past Latvia in a 2-1 quarterfinal.
Meantime, I'm totally behind a suggestion that's been trending on Twitter for how to ramp up the intensity of this game even more:
Loser has to keep Justin Bieber.