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Sochi Games: Canada beats U.S. in men's hockey, protects birthright

Winter OlympicsOlympicsMarc-Edouard VlasicDavid BackesSt. Louis BluesDallas Stars

SOCHI, Russia — Aw, Canada.

It's hard to work up any sort of serious dislike for those quaint neighbors living in America's attic, but this hockey thing is getting ridiculous.

Twice during a 24-hour period at the appropriately named Bolshoy Ice Dome, the Canadian Olympic team has danced all over the United States, first the women, then the men, causing one nation to joyously scream and the other one to, well, absently shrug.

FRAMEWORK: Best images from Sochi

We just don't care about pucks as much, do we? We didn't invent them, most of us don't play them, and only during the Olympics do many of us even watch them, even in two-Stanley Cup Southern California.

We just don't care as much, but maybe we should. Maybe then we could avoid embarrassing nights like Friday, in the men's semifinal game, when the Canadians appeared to play for their birthright while the Americans simply played for a medal.

Canada won, 1-0, in a game that didn't feel nearly that close, inserting another dagger in a rivalry that really isn't a rivalry. Canada has won 12 of 18 Olympic meetings, including ending the USA gold-medal chances in three of the last four Olympics.

Said American David Backes: "A sick feeling."

Said Canada's Marc-Edouard Vlasic: "You've just got to want it more."

Canada clearly wanted it more, and the world wanted it more for Canada, with most of the 11,172 fans cheering for the team dressed in the giant red maple leaf, including Russian fans so empowered, they chanted for them in Russian. In two hours of USA hockey there wasn't one sustained "U-S-A" cheer, and rarely a sustained USA effort. Canada outshot the Americans, 37-31, and successfully killed all three power plays and pretty much did what it wanted. The Americans did not play with the same desperation, or any desperation.

It was as if the thrilling shootout victory over Russia in last week's preliminaries was enough. It's easy to get worked up over Russia. It was seemingly harder for them get worked up over Canada until the puck was dropped and the Canadians started flying and the Americans realized that this was a team fighting for its entire national image, and by then it was too late.

"I don't think we laid it all on the line like we needed to do in order to win," said Backes, who plays for the St. Louis Blues. "They played their butts off, we played pretty hard, but another notch would have done us a lot of good."

The Americans were outnumbered even before the game started, when the Canadians entered their dressing room and discovered a handwritten note from their women's team, which had beaten the USA in overtime the previous night for their fourth consecutive gold medal.

"Guys, tonight is yours. Own the moment. We are proof that every minute matters. The podium is reserved for the brave. Earn every inch, dictate the pace, and go get 'em."

They sweetly signed it, "The girls." It was a perfect example of the strength found in the athletes of a country that sticks together for the sake of one sport. There were no reports of a note from the American women, but their pouting on the silver-medal podium Thursday night said it all. When it comes to hockey, Canada is in America's head.

Canada quickly jumped in the American faces Friday night by outshooting them, 16-11, in the first period with constant and aggressive breakaways that set up their only goal early in the second period. Jamie Benn of the Dallas Stars deflected a pass from the St. Louis Blues' Jay Bouwmeester past the Kings' Jonathan Quick.

"We felt like we were on 'em tonight," said Vlasic, who plays for the San Jose Sharks.

From that moment, the Canadians burrowed in on defense and the Americans were not energized enough — and Pittsburgh Penguins Coach Dan Bylsma didn't strategize smartly enough — to figure it out.

"I thought our team got momentum at that time, forechecked harder, and were on top of them more from that point on," said Canadian Coach Mike Babcock of the Detroit Red Wings.

When the game ended, the Canadians rushed their goal and did several double axels around shutout goalie Carey Price of the Montreal Canadiens while the Americans stood breathless and hunched at the middle of the ice, waiting forlornly for the handshake.

Later, Babcock met the media while wearing the wrinkled shirt of a man who had just been through a battle. Bylsma, meanwhile, still wore the neatly buttoned suit coat of a man who had just left a business meeting.

That's how this rivalry seems to work. The passion seems to go one way. Until that changes, the Olympic outcomes will remain the same.

Had the Canadians lost Friday's game, they would have heard about it this summer in every corner of their country. The only time the Americans will hear about it is if they are playing golf with Canadians.

bill.plaschke@latimes.com

Twitter: @billplaschke

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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Winter OlympicsOlympicsMarc-Edouard VlasicDavid BackesSt. Louis BluesDallas Stars
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