SOCHI, Russia -- The U.S. men’s hockey team is getting exactly what it wanted: a rematch of the gold medal game from the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver.
After the U.S. dominated the Czech Republic, 5-2, in Wednesday’s quarterfinal, the Americans will now face Canada in Friday’s semi-final matchup with the winner advancing to the gold medal game.
In Vancouver, Canada defeated the U.S., 3-2, when Pittsburgh Penguins Sidney Crosby scored in overtime. The Canadians also defeated the U.S. in the 2002 Salt Lake City gold medal game.
When U.S. coach Dan Bylsma was asked to look ahead to the matchup, he took a deep breath and paused for several seconds to gather his thoughts.
“We knew we were going to have some big games prior to this point in time, but you were looking forward to the possibility of this rematch,” Bylsma said.
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The Penguins head coach will be coaching against his best player in Pittsburgh, Crosby. Bylsma added that his American squad is ready and looking forward to face the Canadians.
In Wednesday’s game against the Czech Republic, the Americans continued the dominant play they showed during the group stage.
After James van Riemsdyk gave the Americans the lead 1:39 into the game, the Czechs were able to even the score a few minutes later when Ryan McDonagh tried to clear the puck away from the front of the crease only to see it deflect off the left skate of Ryan Suter into the back of the net. Despite the mishap, Bylsma was quick to heap praise on McDonagh and Suter, who he believed may have been the best player on the ice for the U.S.
The U.S. would quickly recover, with goals from Dustin Brown and David Backes before the end of the first period. From there, the U.S. was able to control the remainder of the game. Goalie Jonathan Quick finished with 21 saves, while Zach Parise and Phil Kessel also scored for the U.S.
Meanwhile, Canada struggled against Latvia as the game was locked at 1-1 before Shea Weber scored a power-play goal with 6:54 to play for the eventual game-winning goal.
The defending Olympic champions were stretched to the limit by Latvia goalie Kristers Gudlevskis, who made 55 saves in a spectacular performance, nearly pulling off one of the biggest upsets in hockey history largely by himself.
But even though Canada struggled in the quarterfinals, the defending gold medalists are still a force to be reckoned with, boasting one of the best lineups the country has ever sent to an Olympics.
With 11 gold medalists, four Rocket Richard trophy winners, two Hart Trophy winners, two Norris Trophy winners, multiple Stanley Cup champions and a Conn Smythe winner, the U.S. will have their hands full in trying to contain Canada’s potent offense. Ranging from players like Crosby, Corey Perry and Jonathan Toews, Canada has no shortage of talent, especially at the forward position.
“It's a great opportunity,” American forward Max Pacioretty said. “They're obviously the favorite coming into the tournament, and we've opened up a lot of eyes with our play, but we have more in the tank to give and to show.
"We keep getting better every game and hopefully we'll keep getting better after this one.”
Canada’s top goalie Carey Price has also been strong during his first Olympic foray. In his three starts in Sochi, the Montreal Canadians keeper stopped 19-of-20 shots in a group-round victory over Norway. He also denied 14-of-15 shots in the overtime win against Finland on Sunday and 15-of-16 against Latvia.
The winner of the game will face the winner of Sweden vs. Finland, a rematch of the 2006 gold medal game, in Sunday’s championship. Meanwhile, the losers of the two semi-finals will play for the bronze medal Saturday.
The game between the U.S. and Canada is scheduled to begin at 12 p.m. ET on Friday. The NBC Sports Network will broadcast the event live, and viewers can watch a free live stream online with NBC Live Extra.
Prediction: USA over Canada, 3-2
Bobby Ilich contributed to this report from Sochi