SOCHI, Russia – When these are the rivalries - Canada facing the U.S. in one semifinal of the Olympic hockey tournament after Sweden plays Finland in the other - X’s and O’s and detailed analysis have less to do with the outcome than pure, unfettered emotion.
This is mind over matchups, and may the strongest-willed win.
“For me, it’s execution and playing the hardest and sticking to the game plan and sacrificing for each other,” said center David Backes, whose rugged play and ability to create offense in contested situations have given Team USA an enviably balanced offense and the tough-to-play-against identity its executives coveted.
For standout defenseman Drew Doughty of Canada, this is the only reason he will even briefly forget the bonds he forged with U.S. winger Dustin Brown and goaltender Jonathan Quick as members of the Los Angeles Kings. When Doughty sees them today at the Bolshoy Ice Dome he will not see friends but foes who stand between him and the chance to play for another gold medal Sunday.
“We want those bragging rights for the rest of the season. For the rest of your life, really,” said Doughty.
Few rivalries run as deep as No. 1-seeded Sweden, the only team unbeaten in regulation, and neighbor Finland, long considered a lesser hockey power even though it won three medals in the four previous Olympic tournaments that included NHL players.
“I think now it’s a healthy, friendly rivalry whereas they used to look up to us as Big Brother,” Sweden’s Daniel Alfredsson said Thursday.
The difference in both semifinals could be the random carom of the puck off a skate or stick, or which player best puts NHL friendships aside when the situation demands it.
“These are the fun ones,” said Canada center Ryan Getzlaf. “This is why we came here.”