It is almost here. The matchup that hockey fans have been awaiting since their last meeting. Can you say rematch? United States versus Canada, does it get much better than that, with a gold medal on the line?
Now, take a deep breath and refocus, because both the United States and host country Canada both have two formidable opponents awaiting in the semifinals.
Canada will take on the Slovaks, who have quietly gone about their business in the tournament and have pushed aside some quality competition, including defending gold medalists Sweden. The talent level for Slovakia is far better than most give them credit with Marian Hossa, Marian Gaborik, Pavol Demitra, and the unknown Jaroslav Halak holding down the fort in net. By no means, will Slovakia be a pushover at this late stage of the tournament.
For the red, white, and blue, the United States will face off against Finland who boast notable NHL superstars such as Teemu Selanne, Olli Jokinen, Niklas Hagman, Kimmo Timonen, both Saku and Mikko Koivu, and one of the premier net-minders in the world Mikka Kiprusoff, just to name a few. Not to mention, the Fins return 15 players from their squad that won the silver medal in the Torino Winter Olympics.
Finland might not carry the same marquee billing that a country such as Russia or the Czech Republic bring to the table, but you cannot question the results the Finnish squad has produced both in the past and presently.
In 2006, Saku Koivu and Teemu Selanne tied for the tournament lead in points with 11 in eight total games. And now, both Koivu and Selanne have the benefit and experience of not only playing together for Finland, but this season the forwards are also teammates on the Anaheim Ducks.
Thus far, Selanne and the Koivu brothers have yet to tickle the twine in Vancouver, but their contributions have been felt in the assists department, combining to total eight assists.
Finland has seen their scoring come from Niklas Hagman, Jarkko Ruutu, Kimmo Timonen, Valterri Filppula, and the veteran Olli Jokinen. Hagman has scored a team high three goals, including the game winning goal against the Czech Republic last night.
Not only has Finland's scoring output propelled them to the semifinal round, but once again, the Fins have had a stellar back wall with Kiprusoff leading the way between the pipes.
Kiprussoff has only given up four goals in the whole tournament, with three being conceded in one game against Sweden, the defending gold medalists.
To compare Kiprusoff with Canada's netminders Roberto Luongo and Martin Brodeur, the Canadian pair has given up a total of 11 goals in five games. Since the USA-Canada game, everyone with Olympic fever, has been raving about the abilities of USA goaltender Ryan Miller and his heroic effort against the Canucks. Even Miller has allowed five goals in the Americans five games thus far.
So, how are the Fins and Americans going to score in this game with the talent between the pipes on each end of the ice? Well, as good as both of these goaltenders are, the skill level and chemistry developed by both teams in this short tournament are virtually unmatched, hence the reason both Finland and the United States reached the semifinal round.
However, if your are a fair weather hockey fan, caught up in the pandemonium of Olympic fever, don't look past Finland, because Canada is in no way looking past Slovakia in their semifinal match up.
The country that takes the tournament one step at a time, one shift at a time, might sooner or later, find their country's flag being raised to the rafters as their national anthem is being played: The best moment of the Olympics, as the gold medals are placed around their necks. Just don't look ahead!