Team USA Still the Little Brother in Olympic Hockey Rivalry with Canada

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Team USA Still the Little Brother in Olympic Hockey Rivalry with Canada
Julio Cortez/AP Images

It was supposed to be an epic battle of hockey superpowers.

Canada. United States.

It was supposed to be a changing of the guard, a passing of the torch—from the mighty Canadians, who nearly lost to Latvia in the quarterfinals, to the upstart Americans, who rolled through their first four matchups and led all teams in scoring at the 2014 Sochi Olympics.

It was supposed to be a measure of revenge for Team USA after losing the gold-medal game to Canada in overtime four years ago. 

Petr David Josek/Associated Press

Instead, it was a reminder that Canada is the superior hockey nation to the United States. And the gap is wider now than it was four years ago.

With a trip to the gold-medal game on the line, Canada knocked out Team USA with a 1-0 victory that felt more like a 10-0 win considering how Canada controlled every aspect of the contest. The Canadians will face Sweden for gold on Sunday while Team USA will battle Finland for bronze on Saturday.

"We didn't have any energy," defenseman Ryan Suter said to NHL.com. "We didn't have a forecheck. We weren't very good."

This was less a hockey game and more a big brother getting a chuckle out of an overmatched little brother trying so hard despite the outcome being a foregone conclusion.

Team USA right wing Phil Kessel had the first scoring chance 30 seconds into the game. He flew past defenseman Duncan Keith as if he were a flag on a downhill slalom course, only to be denied by goaltender Carey Price, who probably had a hard time keeping a straight face as he made the save and did not allow a rebound.

Even if you were involved in a disastrous fireworks accident, you could count the remaining dangerous American scoring chances on one hand.

“They managed the puck pretty well and played a real suffocating style of defense," Team USA forward David Backes said to Puck Daddy at Yahoo Sports. "We didn’t battle through it in quite the ways we needed to to have success. The result is no second and third chances that we’ve been scoring on earlier."

Paul Stastny pushed a loose puck through Price's legs only to see it go wide of the post in the second period. Zach Parise had a chance from the left faceoff circle late in the third period, but Price swallowed the shot that died in the red leaf on his chest.

J. David Ake/Associated Press

Otherwise, this game was about as rough as a slightly uncomfortable massage for Canada.

And that's not likely to change should these teams meet at the 2018 Olympics or at any potential World Cups on North American soil in the coming years.

Jamie Benn, who scored the game's lone goal, is 24 years old. There are eight players on Canada's roster who were born after 1986, including Sidney Crosby, Jonathan Toews, Drew Doughty, Alex Pietrangelo and Carey Price. That doesn't include Steven Stamkos or John Tavares, who were born in 1990 and absent from this game with Team USA due to injury, or 24-year-old PK Subban, the reigning Norris Trophy winner who has been a healthy scratch in all but one game at Sochi.

Shea Weber, Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf are 28. Rick Nash is 29.

Time will catch and ruin all of us, but it's got a long way to go before it runs down the Canada's core. It is probably about as far behind Team Canada as Team USA is behind their biggest rivals. 

Team USA has 10 players born after 1986, putting them on par with Team Canada in terms of age.

But after two Olympics in which Canada has gotten the best of Team USA, does it matter?

Julio Cortez/Associated Press

If anything, it just sets up Team USA for another seven to eight years of heartbreak with a very similar roster against a team that's simply better in every regard.

Well, maybe not goaltending. Jonathan Quick was unbelievable in the loss to Canada, stopping 36 of 37 shots, while Brooks Orpik wasn't quick enough to mark Benn in front of his net or aware enough to prevent Perry from picking his pocket in his own zone on a separate play.

Quick is 28 years old and has enough left in the tank to be a force for the national team for at least another four years. But as was evidenced on Friday, a great goaltender can only take you so far against an opponent that's a cut above.

Canada was superior defensively, strangling the life out of Team USA's top line and preventing second chances from anyone else. Parise finished the game with eight shots for the U.S., but you're kidding yourself if you think more than two of them had any hope of getting past Price.

Canada was superior offensively despite the absence of Tavares, the third-leading scorer in the NHL this season. Some sort of fee should be charged to Canada's forwards for setting up residence in Team USA's defensive zone for nearly 60 minutes.

Matt Slocum/Associated Press

Was Quick better than Price? That's fair to say, but when the team in front of Price is this talented, it doesn't matter. It makes Canada virtually impervious to an opposition goaltender stealing a game.

Behind the bench, it's also not a contest. Team Canada's Mike Babcock is the best in the business, and when the chips were down, he boxed Team USA's Dan Bylsma's ears off. Even with the Americans having the last change, Bylsma had Orpik on the ice against Crosby at times and refused to get Pavelski's line away from Toews' line, which was an utter mismatch for the U.S. 

Bylsma made few in-game adjustments, but by the time he did, they were a mix of pointless and belated.

"We didn't change our game plan at all," Orpik said, according to Dan Rosen of NHL.com. "We wanted to push the pace. I think you just got to credit them."

This was supposed to be Team USA's time to rise up and punch its big brother in the face and show they were equals. 

Instead, Team Canada gently patted Team USA on the head before taking its lunch money on the way to the gold-medal game against Sweden.

 

Dave Lozo covers the NHL for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @DaveLozo.

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