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Let the rivalries begin

Men’s hockey preliminary round ends today with three premier matchups

VANCOUVER, British Columbia – It’s Rivalry Weekend at the Vancouver Olympics.

The last time the Winter Games were held in Canada, the big head-to-head matchups were in figure skating. Now they’re in hockey, and today’s final day of the men’s preliminary round features rematches of the last three gold medal games. It starts with Russia and the Czech Republic on NBC, then MSNBC will carry the next two games – the United States against Canada and Sweden facing Finland.

The most anticipated matchups are the hockey games – at least in Canada, where a loss to the U.S. is the last thing the host country needs before the start of the medal round. This is the first big U.S.-Canada men’s hockey matchup since Canada beat the Americans in 2002 to win Olympic gold on U.S. soil.

And that rivalry is positively friendly compared to the one between Czechs and Russians. Czech star Jaromir Jagr wears No. 68 on his jersey – as in 1968, the year the Soviet military crushed a liberal movement in Czechoslovakia.

Aside from the hockey games, today’s big television highlight might be the Olympic debut of skicross, a variation on the snowboardcross. NBC will air skicross in prime time, along with Bode Miller’s next event, the Alpine super-combined.

Also scheduled for prime time: Ice dancing continues with original dance. Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto are the top U.S. medal hopes.

Also on the menu, women’s speed skating and bobsled.