The United States and Canada men’s hockey teams are set to meet in the semifinals of the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics on Friday. Even though a gold medal isn’t on the line, it’s one of the biggest games in the history of the event.
The rivalry between the two countries continues to grow, drawing great interest in the contest. While Canada usually has the superior team, there appears to be a very small gap between the clubs. The matchup is expected to be an intense and tight affair, which has made the rivalry even more intriguing.
If the preliminary round and quarterfinals are any indication, viewership for Friday’s contest will set records. A week ago, Team USA beat Russia in front of an average of 4.1 million fans on the NBC Sports Network, which set a new mark for hockey viewership on the channel.
That game aired early on a Saturday morning. Both teams have much more to lose in this matchup, which is set to air at noon on a weekday.
Online viewership is expected to be extraordinarily high. When the U.S. was a heavy favorite against the Czech Republic on Wednesday, NBC Sports Live Extra drew almost 800,000 unique visitors.
With the USA vs. Czech Republic game doing such big numbers, it’s hard to imagine what USA vs. Canada could do. The U.S. won that quarterfinal contest 5-2 and had pulled away by the start of the third period. The semifinal matchup is likely to come down to the wire and might continue after regulation.
“We’re talking about a premier event going on at 12 noon Eastern, with the West Coast awake, too,” Rick Cordella, senior vice president and general manager for digital at the NBC Sports Group said, according to the New York Times. “It’ll be big, but I don’t know how big.”
The Americans faced Canada in the gold medal round of the 2010 Winter Olympics. NBC broadcast the contest, which went into overtime. With an average of 27.6 million viewers, it was the most watched hockey game since Team USA beat Finland for the gold medal in 1980.