Damn Yankees, Olympic hosts on collision course
VANCOUVER, British Columbia – Jack Johnson came to Vancouver to get the full Olympic experience. He walked in the parade of athletes at opening ceremonies. He has mingled with other American athletes in the USA House’s cafeteria at the Olympic village in downtown Vancouver. The only thing left to do is get a medal.
“You’re seeing U.S. athlete after U.S. athlete walking into the house with a medal,” said Johnson, a 23-year-old defenseman for the NHL’s Los Angeles Kings. “It’s made us feel that we better win, too, or we’re kind of the black sheep of the house because everyone else who has a medal.”
There’s no need to worry about that. Johnson and his U.S. hockey teammates are welcome at the house any time after they played their way into Sunday’s gold medal game by clobbering Finland on Friday, 6-1, at Canada Hockey Place.
Although, if the Americans win the gold medal, our northern neighbors may consider closing their borders.
These pesky Yanks just keep refusing to play down to expectations. And their party-crashing at this tournament has become the hottest story of Canada’s Games.
“We’re a tough team to hang with,” said U.S. goalie Ryan Miller, who got a respite in the third period with his team up, 6-0, and who hasn’t allowed a goal in his last two games.
“We came into this game with no pressure,” said forward Ryan Kesler, who plays for the local NHL team here and who has become Public Enemy No. 1 in the streets of Vancouver. “No one expects us to win and for us to come out and dominate says something about our grit and our character.”
The U.S. didn’t just dominate, it beat the consonants out of a Finnish team led by NHL stalwart Teemu Selanne. In the first period, you couldn’t look up from your $7 Molson without another U.S. shot getting past Finnish goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff.
“I’m stunned,” said Selanne, the all-time Olympic points leader. “This has never happened in my career on the national level. I don’t know what happened. You know?”
Canadians can’t figure out this U.S. team, either. They showed up decked out in their red on Friday, taking up most of the seats in near half-empty arena. They waved Finnish flags. They tried to drown out “USA” chants by yelling “Canada.” One guy brought a big poster that read “Hockey is Canada’s Game.”
After six goals in 12 plus minutes, though, the man was slumped down in his seat, his sign covered up by an American flag waved by a fan dancing in front of him.
Canadians were expecting Lindsey Vonn to get her medals. They knew U.S. snowboarders were going to own their slushy halfpipe. They could have cared less about men’s figure skating and the upset pulled off by American Evan Lysacek.
But losing to the young U.S. men in hockey on Sunday was a national nightmare, and now that the same team stands in their way for a gold medal, Canadians, though they’ll never admit it, are fearing the Worst Possible Scenario imaginable. This is cold war.
Canada has not lived up to its Own the Podium slogan, but it has to have this one.
Even before Wayne Gretzky lit the torch here in Vancouver, the only acceptable outcome for the host nation was to win gold. Winning it by exacting revenge on the U.S. would be the most delicious outcome possible.
But losing? To a bunch of overachieving Americans?
Unforgivable. Unimaginable. Un-Canadian.
“We want to play the States again,” a fiercely proud Canuck told me the other night over a “real” English size pint at a White Spot, Vancouver’s version of a Chili’s. “We’re going to do a number on you guys.”
That may be prove to be true.
Canada will be the overwhelming favorite to win Sunday, despite what happened just a week earlier. The home crowd will be frothing. The stakes will be much higher.
Considering what the young U.S. team has already done, though, to get here, you can’t help but wonder if destiny is on its side. If it could pull off its own miracle.
Defenseman Ryan Suter, whose father Bob played on the 1980 U.S. team that won the gold medal in Lake Placid, said after Friday’s win that he hasn’t considered the possibility.
“We came in and we had a goal in our mind and that goal was to be in the game on Sunday,” said Suter, who plays for the Nashville Predators and wears No. 20, just like his dad. “I guess I haven’t thought about 9the gold medal) yet, and hopefully I won’t think about it until after the game. But emotions will be high.”
One thing is for certain: Win or lose, there will be no place like home for either team.
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