INNSBRUCK, Austria – Each generation has its main rivals and for the members of Team Canada, the United States is it.
And the rivalry is being rekindled at the 2005 world hockey championship when the Canadians and Americans meet in their final preliminary round game at the 16-team tournament on Thursday.
“U.S-Canada has been a big deal the last 10 years,” says Simon Gagne. “It’s the big game now. It’s two big machines. The game means a lot because you can finish first or second in the group.”
Canada and the United States have identical 2-0 records and the winner claims first place of Group B. If the game ends in a tie, the Canadians win on goal differential.
The two teams don’t have to be reminded for a minute that something is at stake.
The rivalry between the two teams has been building for years and it includes men, women and teens.
The United States won the 1996 World Cup of Hockey and it took six years for Canada to avenge the loss but they did it in dramatic style. Canada mined gold at the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, Utah, beating the Americans 5-2 for the Olympic title.
On the women’s side, Canada’s National Women’s team won eight consecutive world championships before losing to the States in a shootout in the final of the ’05 world tournament in Sweden. The United States won the ’98 Olympic gold medal, beating Canada in the final, and the Canadian women got their revenge when they beat the Americans on their home soil at the ’02 Winter Games.
The United States won the 2004 World Junior Championship, beating Canada in the final in Finland and Canada mopped up at the “05 WJC in North Dakota.
Then just a few weeks ago, the United States beat Canada to win the World U18 title.
Canada and the United States split a pair of pre-tournament games before they world tournament started last weekend.
Here in the Austrian Alps, Canada is the two-time defending world champion and is gunning for a third crown. The Americans are looking to improve off their bronze medal finish a year ago in Prague. It was the first world medal for the United States since 1996.
Their paths have criss-crossed for years and the Canadians and Americans are to renew their rivalry but not in what Europeans call a “friendly.”.
Canada is 33-3 at the world tournament against their closest neighbor.
“You get to measure yourself and prove to people this is where USA Hockey fits in,” says American centre Doug Weight. “This is a real step in the competition. Canada is the favorite but that goes out the window when they play the United States.”
Marty Brodeur will get the start in net for Canada, while it’s not sure whether the Americans will go with Ty Conklin, who plays for the Edmonton Oilers, or Rick DiPietro.
Kris Draper enjoys both the higher level of competition the Americans will provide along with the challenge of shadowing Weight and Mike Modano.
“There are fun games,” says Draper about the United States. “They are the best competition in the tournament and we realize the United States is a very talented club and everyone is looking forward to this game.
Draper is a super pest and if he and linemate Kirk Maltby at their best, they will give the Americans fits.
Draper was asked why he liked being a super pest.
bout “The best thing you can do is obviously look at the score sheet after the game and if they do not have anything and we have win the game then you realize you have done your job,” he says. “That’s how we will at it. We don’t need highlights. If we can go out and feel we can shut down the other team’s top line, then we will give out team a chance to win.”
And both sides would like nothing more to beat their fiercest rival.