VANCOUVER - Here we go again.
A week ago, on what was called Super Sunday, the Americans beat the Canadians in the Olympics for the first time in 50 years. On Sequel Sunday, the United States will try to become Olympic champions on the 50th anniversary of their out-of-nowhere gold medal in Squaw Valley, Calif. The only other American hockey gold was the Miracle on Ice in Lake Placid 30 years ago.
No, one game wasn't nearly enough.
Canada, the hockey superpower, was always was supposed to play for the gold medal on home ice in the very country that invented hockey. The United States, the infrequent power that hasn't won a hockey gold outside its own borders, has been the best team in the Olympics so far.
Beating Canada on Canadian ice with a pro-Canadian crowd once was difficult enough for the United States, the surprise of the tournament and the only unbeaten team remaining.
"It's hard to be a team twice in a tournament like this," U.S. coach Ron Wilson said.
"But we've beaten Canada, and we'll play better than we did the last time we played against them."
The Americans have no choice unless they're to leave the Olympics with the silver for the second time in three Olympics. Canada also beat them in Salt Lake City eight years ago.
"We all talked, 'Wouldn't it be nice?' and now we have the opportunity," said Ryan Miller, arguably the best goalie in the games. "We have the talent. We have some youthful excitement, we have the right kind of veteran players."
A decidedly young U.S. team is the only team to win every game in regulation in Vancouver, and it owns two of the most impressive victories by beating Canada and 2006 silver medalist Finland 6-1 in the semifinals.
The Canadians have been very good since losing to the United States, blowing out Germany 8-2 and Russia 7-3, but they've also shown some vulnerability. The Americans' speed confounded them, and they barely held on to beat Slovakia 3-2 in the semifinals Friday night as Roberto Luongo gave up two late goals.
No lineup can match Canada's for depth, talent, and versatility. But this isn't a seven-game series, it's a 60-minute game, and the Americans already know they are capable of beating Canada.
If they have few fans in the building, so what? Every crowd in Vancouver has rooted for the Americans' opponent.
"There were no expectations for us, from the media or the fans, from everyone, no expectations for us other than ourselves," defenseman Jack Johnson said.
"I think we had higher
expectations for ourselves than anyone. Our expectations were to win a gold medal. We've put ourselves in a position to do that, and I think we've earned that, absolutely."
It's been a difficult month for the man charged with picking that team, general manager Brian Burke, who insisted from the start the United States could win.
Burke lost his son in a car accident earlier this month, but he said the late Brendan Burke would have wanted him to carry out his commitment to the Olympic team. So far, the players' performance has justified Burke's immense faith in them. He also made sure they kept their competitive edge by saying they hadn't come close to playing up to their potential even while beating Canada.
Canada's confidence apparently wasn't shaken by last Sunday's loss. Coach Mike Babcock was half-smiling after the Slovakia game when he said the United States should be favored, and defenseman Shea Weber said, "They did beat us, but now it's a whole different game."
Miller might represent the United States' biggest advantage; he has outplayed Luongo, who took over for Martin Brodeur following the U.S. loss. But there are plenty of worries for the Americans too, given how Canada is getting scoring from all four lines.
"We were too easy on Miller last time," Babcock said. "We won't be this time."
The player expected to be Canada's best, Sidney Crosby, hasn't scored in two games, and his most significant contribution was beating Switzerland in a shootout. He has yet to be dominating, but what better time than in the gold-medal game? When he last faced Miller in the NHL, on Feb. 1, he scored three goals.
If there is one shared sentiment in the Canadians' dressing room, it's this: We're not going to let the United States beat us twice.
"It doesn't matter who we play in the gold-medal game, we want it so bad," forward Jonathan Toews said. "It will feel good to beat the U.S., for sure."
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