Saturday, February 27, 2010

Battle lines drawn for USA-Canada

Blues will work out in morning, support respective
native countries in afternoon for gold medal game

HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- Davis Payne could only quip when a reporter asked him who he's picking in the rematch between the United States and Canada.

First, the Kamloops, British Columbia native laughed it off, then replied, "Far too easy of an answer to even ask the question."

As the Blues return after a day off Saturday in preparation for Tuesday's game in Phoenix, the battle lines between American/Canadian players and coaches have been drawn.

They will be united on the ice at St. Louis Mills this morning, then become opponents as the USA and Canada battle for Olympic gold today at 2:15 p.m. (local time).

"I haven't gotten my dual citizenship yet," Payne joked.

If the rematch is anywhere near last Sunday's 5-3 USA victory over Canada in the preliminary round, it will be quite the treat as the Vancouver Games come to conclusion on this day.

Team USA was a heavy underdog in the preliminary matchup, but despite being outshot 45-23 in the game, the Americans made the best of their opportunities against Marty Brodeur -- who will not play today, as Vancouver Canucks' Roberto Luongo will get the start -- but USA's Ryan Miller was spectacular.

"There's definitely some unbelievable hockey," said Blues goalie Chris Mason, a Red Deer, Alberta native who was on Canada's reserve list.

"That's what happens in these tournaments. You have to give teams credit in these tournaments. ... The US team is playing unbelievable right now. Their goalie (Miller) is hot. That's the way it goes. It's good to watch. It's no fun if you know who's going to win all the time and that's obviously not been the case."

The majority of the Blues' locker room is Canadian-dominated, but they've given credit where credit is due.

"It was exciting," defenseman Barret Jackman said. "The US came out ... I think after the first five minutes when Miller made some big saves, I thought the US team for the most part was a little bit more patient than the Canadians. In the end, they just kind of buried their chances when they had them.

"You have the speed of a playoff game, and then you get the skill of an all-star game. With that combination and with the hits and hard work, it makes for the best hockey in the world right now."

Even the guy running their hockey operations -- Blues President John Davidson -- comes from Ottawa, Ontario. But Davidson said the first matchup and subsequent rematch are good for the game.

"It was like two all-star teams playing a game for keeps," Davidson said of last week's game. "It's not like an all-star game where it's kind of a reward for having a good year and you put an exhibition on. This was an all-star game playing for keeps. And they played hard. ... For people that had a chance to watch it ... for me at least, it was great for the sport."

Davidson also likes the exposure two of his own (USA's David Backes and Erik Johnson) are getting. Even the Czech Republic's Roman Polak, who is expected back on the ice today, earned high grades from Davidson.

"I've loved it. I love the experience all of them are getting," he said. "It's been real good. I don't think from our point of view with the three guys, it's been a disappointment at all. It's been really quite remarkable for young players to get the quality time and experience they're getting.

"Their resumes have an important paragraph that's been now added to it."

Today's game is a gold medal rematch of the 2002 Olympic Games that were played in Salt Lake City, one the Canadians won 5-2.

"The US and Canadians have had such great games," Jackman said. "You look at the World Cup about eight years ago, you look at the Olympics in 2002 ... it could go either way. The Canadians probably have a more high-profiled team, but the Americans still have a lot of skill on their team."

Which should make for a terrific ending today.

"I hope Canada and the US meet up in the finals," Davidson said before Friday's semifinal games. "That'd be great to see for the gold."

No doubt about it.

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