U.S. getting 'hate' on for Canada
American hockey players not shy about letting feelings out ahead of showdown with border rivals
VANCOUVER–It's red and white vs. red, white and blue, but Sunday's primary colours could be black and blue.
This will not be just another friendly cross-border hockey tilt between Canada and the U.S.
"I hate them," said Ryan Kesler, a Canuck in the NHL but very much an American here. "It's a big rivalry. Obviously, Canadians, it's their game. I wouldn't say I hate them, you have respect for the other team. Canadians expect to win the gold and anything less is not good enough. It's going to be fun to try to knock them off."
"Do we dislike them? Absolutely," said U.S defenceman Jack Johnson.
While the Americans were tossing out bulletin board material, the Canadian mostly took the high road on the eve of the game, focusing instead on the importance of a victory in order to win their pool.
"What are you getting at," defenceman Chris Pronger said, when asked about Johnson's statement. "Stirring the pot again? Next question.
"I'm not into the `he said, she said' thing."
Then when asked to describe the rivalry, Pronger responded: "There is a rivalry? How would you like me to describe it? I don't think the two teams have played in a while. We're going to find out real quickly tomorrow."
"(What Kesler said) is pretty strong," said Canada's Jonathan Toews. "I think as a team, we feel we hate to lose to anybody in this tournament especially against the Americans. It's a rivalry for a reason. Both teams will be elevating their level of play in consideration of who they're playing against. It'll be a battle."
Sunday's rivalry, despite what Pronger says, will not only be a heated one renewed but it will also be a showdown for top spot in Group A of this Olympic hockey tournament, the winner guaranteed a direct trip the quarter-finals and one of the top seeds when the elimination games start.
And the Americans, who have last change, have spread out their size in order fulfill their game plan of crashing and banging. Remember the Canadians have 15 players who are 6-foot-2 or more. But the Americans counter with big boys David Backes, Bobby Ryan, Ryan Malone and Kesler up front.
"We've got some size too," said U.S. GM Brian Burke. "We've just got to try and get some line match-ups the way we want them. We purposely brought some beef for that reasons.
Added Kesler: "We're going to try and hit them and frustrate them. That's the game plan."
Corey Perry, a pretty good banger himself, said physical play is exactly what his Canadian squad expects in an NHL-style game.
"They're going to be a forechecking team. They'll come with a lot of pressure," he said. "They're a physical team. We just have to be ready to handle their forecheck."
Both teams juggled their lines slightly for Sunday's game. The big change for Canada sees Mike Richards move up to the left side of the No. 1 line with Sidney Crosby. Rick Nash stays on the right side after starting the tournament on the Crosby's left. Jarome Iginla will play on a fourth line again with Jonathan Toews and Brenden Morrow
An interesting new line for the Americans sees a combination of Ryan, Kesler and Patrick Kane, a unit with brawn and scoring touch.
There are no shortage of subplots here since there are 18 players on the Canadian squad have teammates on the American team. Jamie Langenbrunner and Zach Parise, for example, will be shooting on Jersey mate Martin Brodeur. Kane and Toews will be going against each other. San Jose's Joe Pavelski will face four fellow San Jose players on the Canadian team.
"We're not golfing against each other. We're competing against each other," said Langenbrunner when asked it presented a problem.
Although the Americans are technically the home team, Burke has no illusions about this being a hospitable environment.
"We're the enemy tomorrow. We know that," he said. "It's going to be a hostile crazy crowd on behalf of Canada and that's the way it ought to be. The games are in Canada, that's the way it ought to be. It'll be a passionate – it'll be a zoo in here."