VANCOUVER – The Canadians and Americans revisit their great rivalry this afternoon at Canada Hockey Place in Vancouver, another gold medal on the line. More than any previous meeting, though, this has a special and symbolic significance for one country which could have long-lasting effects.
On the one hand, coach Melody Davidson has a roster which includes only six new faces from the gold-medal team in Turin. The argument, of course, is two-fold. If Canada wins, it’s because of experience and leadership, veteran play under pressure by players who have come through in the clutch many times before.
But if they lose, the argument suggests the team hasn’t turned over enough and is long in the tooth. Given that Canada has also lost the 2008 and 2009 World Women’s Championships to the Americans, the message is clear. A loss today will mean a significant overhaul of the roster.
The Americans represent the flip side. They have only six players who appeared in Turin’s highly disappointing bronze-medal finish. After that tournament, coach Ben Smith was fired and the program underwent major change. This reaped no results in 2007 when Canada won WW gold again, but in the last two years it seems that the United States has distanced itself from Canada.
If the Americans lose, of course, the explanation might be that too much change in too short a time has left a team with not enough poise under pressure, not enough veteran calm and leadership.
Ironically, in each Olympics the team that has had the upper hand in the lengthy exhibition season between the two teams leading up to the Olympics has often lost. This suggests that the losing team prior to the important games has made the necessary adjustments and come through in the clutch.
One thing both teams have avoided is making a major change before the Olympics. In 1998, Canada cut Angela James just before Nagano, and the players weren’t able to overcome the loss of talent and shock of the loss of a close teammate.
In 2006, Smith cut Cammi Granato just before Turin, producing a semi-finals loss to the Swedes. In 2010, both coaches have elected to go with more or less the same teams they’ve had all season, with a few tweaks.
To listen to players on both teams speak, though, the game today will decided by one simple factor – execution. The players know each other. The talent is more or less the same. It’s just a matter of who does what better on this historic day. Which goalie will make the big save? Which special teams unit will come up with the big goal or penalty kill? Which big-name forward will score the timely goal? Today, it’s all about execution.