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USA vs. Canada: the triumph of black-and-blue hockey

The USA vs. Canada hockey match for gold medal at the Vancouver Olympics is taking place because, in a tournament where many hockey prima donnas don't want to get their hands dirty, they did the yeoman work.

By Staff writer / February 28, 2010

At the USA vs. Canada gold medal round today, USA forward Ryan Kesler (17), seen here in the men's hockey semifinal against Finland at the Vancouver Olympics, embodied the Americans' commitment to playing team defense.

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Vancouver, British Columbia

Today's USA vs. Canada men's hockey game for the gold medal at the Vancouver Olympics is happening for one reason, says Brian Burke, the architect and general manager of team USA.

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They both “play black-and-blue hockey,” he said Saturday, referring to North America’s traditionally more physical style.

In these Olympics, though, black-and-blue hockey has not meant just a desire to rattle the boards with body checks. It has meant a total commitment to team hockey.

That commitment is not always common among professional hockey players on their two-week Olympic break. Invariably, they are their nation’s best. But often they are also hockey’s divas – the goalscorers and creative geniuses who twirl into open ice with the grace of an autumn leaf or blast pucks on net like an artillery sergeant.

Yeoman they are not. The dirty work of penalty killing and blocking shots is for lesser players than they.

Yet every Olympics, and this one is no different, the hockey world is reminded of the indispensability of the men who seek their glory not in individual adulation or statistical flattery, but in their team's victories.

Team Canada: total commitment

Canada is the most talented team in the tournament. Yet before its home crowd, each athlete has been a warrior, doing the tasks that won’t make a Top 10 montage, but make life miserable for opponents.

After the comprehensive 7-3 quarterfinal victory against Russia, forward Rick Nash, one of the National Hockey League’s best players, said: “We wanted to play in their end as much as possible.”

The inference there was not to scoring goals, but to prevent Russia from scoring goals. In other words, simply by working the puck in the corners and keeping the puck in the Russian zone – regardless of goals – Canada would prevent the Russians from scoring.

The Canadians were, in essence, playing defense with their offense – committing to a yeoman game plan instead of individual glory.

The way the Russians played, it appeared as if there were no words in the Russian language to convey this idea. The Russians were more likely to use halibut instead of hockey sticks than use offense as a defensive weapon.

The offensive zone, you see, is for preening and playing postcard hockey. At least, that is what they will be thinking on the plane ride home.

“We grinded in the corners,” said forward Cory Perry. “These guys don’t want to play defense, they want to score goals.”

But guess who scored the goals? Canada.

Team USA: We were made for this

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