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USA awaits Canada's Big Red Ice Machine

Posted by Obnoxious Boston Fan  February 20, 2014 08:14 PM

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Team USA vs. Canada.jpg

Now it's up to the men.

And the stakes are monumental:

Beyond that, Friday's Olympic hockey semifinal between Team USA and Canada's Big Red Ice Machine carries none of the national political impact delivered when the Americans beat the USSR's Big Red Ice Machine in 1980. But there is a gold medal shot at stake when this passionate Olympic hockey rivalry resumes at noon Eastern in Sochi.

The anguish of Team USA's overtime loss to Sidney Crosby and the Canadians in Vancouver four years ago will be revisited often during the live telecast on NBC USA Network CNBC MSNBC The Olympic Blue Channel NBC Sports Channel.

This time, Wayne Gretzky, who the executive director of Team Canada in 2010, won't be able to hide a "Lucky Loon" beneath center ice.

Every little bit helps.

Team USA has two mortal foes on Olympic ice in this post-NHL-player world: The Canadians and the Russians. The Russians were dispatched by Finland Wednesday in a hockey rematch of the their military encounter in 1940. Team USA had already beaten them once in Soshie, anyway. That bear had already been dumped in the woods.

"До свидания, Alex"

The Americans and Canadians have faced each other four times in the Olympics since NHL players became eligible to play. Team Canada is 3-1. Canada has won four straight Olympic gold medals, two at the expense of Team USA in the gold-medal game.

"Seems like we're on crash course to meet those guys. It's a little bit of opportunity for revenge on what happened in Vancouver," St. Louis' David Backes [pictured above] told NBC Thursday. "We'll repair whatever relationships we have to later."

Joe Pavelski of the Sharks added that the Team USA-Team Canada rivalry is never far from his mind: "I think about it often. It just randomly pops into my head sometimes."

Team USA has not touched Olympic gold since Mike Eurizone called for his teammates to join him on the make-shift podium at center ice inside what is now called Herb Brooks Arena.

It's hard to see a real edge for either team on Friday. As it does in so many big games, this one will likely come down to goaltending and limiting mistakes and/or mental lapses.

[See - or better yet not see - the final two minutes of Game 6 against Chicago last June.]

The good news for Team USA and its millions of fans in New England is that Patrick Kane is on their side this time. Friday, most Bruins fans will be hoping Phil Kessel continues his Olympic mastery [he has five goals thus far]. Kane will find the five hole more than once and that Max Pacioretty owns the attacking zone.

Meanwhile, that crowd at Stats Bar & Grille in Southie, will be cursing en masse whenever Patrice Bergeron scores.

That's what the Olympics can do to hockey fans.

And don't forget Finland [or perhaps Sweden. It always seems to be looming in the background.

After the 2004 Red Sox came back to crush the Yankees in the ALCS, Theo Epstein had one thing on his mind:

"Time to play Finland now," he said.

The "Finland" analogy became forever immortalized in the Boston sports lexicon.

Theo hadn't lost his mind - that would come later when he spent $103.11 million on Dice-K, $36 million on Julio Lugo and committed to spend $142 million on Carl Crawford. Theo knew that October evening, while standing in the visitors' clubhouse inside Yankee Stadium, the Red Sox would be facing the St. Louis Cardinals in the 2004 World Series.

"Finland" here meant "closing the deal after beating an Evil Empire."

For America in the 1980 Olympics, "Evil Empire" meant the Soviet Union [a term given to the USSR by President Reagan in a speech three years later]. In 2004, "Evil Empire" meant the Yankees [a moniker bestowed on them by Larry Lucchino in 2002 while he was running the Red Sox.]

Theo was referring to what Team USA did in 1980 two days after beating the Soviets in the "semifinal" of the Olympic hockey tournament. For those who may not be old enough to have witnessed Al Michaels ask "Do You Believe in Miracles?" live on tape via ABC, Team USA's 4-3 over the USSR on Friday, Feb. 22, 1980, clinched nothing in terms of Olympic medals.

There was no "gold-medal" game per-se in 1980. The Olympics used a round-robin system, and not single elimination, in the final round. Heading into their last game against Finland, the USA could have finished anywhere between first and fourth in the tournament, depending on how they did and what happened in the later game that day between Sweden and the Soviet Union.

The USA beat Finland rather handily on that Sunday morning, 4-2, and thus, clinched the gold, in much the same way the Red Sox beat St. Louis rather handily in the 2004 World Series in clinching their own gold. The 1980 final-round game against Finland was actually aired live across America. David Brinkley was given the week off. [Kids, you can Google him.]

There wasn't much at stake for Team USA before it played the Soviets at Lake Placid given the fact that no one but Kurt Russell gave them a chance.

Team USA's win that afternoon became America's biggest sports victory in the Cold War. The national importance of that win over the USSR 34 years ago Saturday cannot be understated. Many of the ills that effect this country today, whether they be chronic unemployment, high energy costs, soaring food prices, foreign policy blunders, government inefficiencies, a weakness of American resolve and strength worldwide, were all magnified by the reality on the ground that winter.

The prime interest rate was 15.75 percent and your parents and grand parents were paying about 18 percent on their mortgages, assuming they had jobs. Inflation was 14.2 percent and unemployment was 7.1 percent. The so-called "Misery Index" that helped define the 1976 presidential election had disappeared - for now - from the national nightly news.

There were still 52 Americans being held hostage in Iran. Ben Affleck and his friends had just spirited six other Americans out of the country three weeks earlier. The real Big Red Machine - the one with tanks, guns and attack helicopters - had months earlier began an ill-fated foray into Afghanistan.

The United States beating the Soviets in a hockey game did not reverse these ills. It didn't repair the economy, get the hostages out of Iran or solve the "Energy Crisis." But what it did do was make millions of Americans feel good about something after months and months of misery. The so-called "national malaise" finally began to break and optimism eventually became contagious.

The winner of Friday's USA-Canada game faces Sweden, which beat Finland earlier in the day in Sunday's gold-medal showdown. The loser gets the bronze medal game.

So, even if Team USA gets past this dreaded Big Red Ice Machine, they will have to face this year's version of Finland.

Just like their Olympic predecessors did in 1980.

Some things never change.

Got a news tip, want to let me know directly what you think, or have a complaint or compliment about my "aggressively relevant" content, hit me up on our Obnoxious Boston Fan Facebook page, on Twitter @realOBF or e-mail me at obnoxiousbostonfan@hotmail.com. Thanks always for reading and pass the clicker.

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