As if they didn’t have enough motivation to beat Team USA in the Olympic men’s hockey semifinal Friday night, the Canadian men’s team arrived at its Bolshoy Ice Dome locker room Friday night and found a note from Canada’s women’s team.
The women had beaten the United States for the gold medal in the same building a night earlier in a 3-2 come-from-behind overtime thriller.
The note read: “Guys, Tonight is Yours. Own This Moment. We are proof that every minute matters. The Podium is Reserved for the Brave. Earn every inch, dictate the pace. Go Get Em! From, The Girls.’’
Friday’s game lacked the intensity and drama of the women’s game. It didn’t come close to the electric atmosphere at the Olympic men’s gold medal match between Canada and Team USA in Vancouver four years ago. But in the end, the result was the same: A Canada victory.
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Forward Jamie Benn, a former baseball player who had to work his way onto the Olympic hockey team, scored the game’s lone goal 1:41 into the second period. The Canadian defense continued its brilliant play to hang on for a 1-0 win.
Canada has conceded just three goals in five games. The Canadians will play Sweden for the gold medal on Sunday. Team USA plays Finland for bronze on Saturday.
U.S. players were so disappointed most of them didn’t stop to talk to reporters after the game.
“We didn’t show up to play, and it’s kind of frustrating,’’ said defenseman Ryan Suter. “They’re a good team. We sat back, we were passive. You can’t play scared. I thought we sat on our heels and just didn’t take it to them at all. We had motivation. We just didn’t take it on the ice.”
Asked which loss hurt more, this one or the overtime loss in Vancouver, Suter replied: “This one. We didn’t show up to play.”
Twenty-four Canadian and U.S. players here were on the rosters for that unforgettable game four years ago. The building was buzzing with Canadians in their Olympic red knitted mittens. The nation came to a standstill to watch on TV, and erupted in celebration when Sidney Crosby scored the overtime goal to clinch gold.
Crosby still hasn’t scored through give games in Sochi, but he was flying up and down the ice, helped create chances and gave the team energy. The Canadian players were faster, and their defense kept Team USA toward the outside, making it tough for them to get scoring chances.
Benn’s goal was largely the work of defenseman Jay Bouwmeester. Benn got down the middle behind U.S. defenders Brooks Orpik and John Carlson, made a pass back to the defense, and Bouwmeester directed a shot-pass right back onto Benn’s stick, and he tipped it in. Much of the crowd of 11,172, which included Russian star Alex Ovechkin, went wild. Cheering loudly from the stands were the Canadian women players, some wearing their gold medals around their necks.
Canada coach Mike Babcock, who coaches the Detroit Red Wings, felt “honored’’ and relieved to come out with the win. He stressed just how huge hockey is in Canada, how 27 million of 33 million residents watched that gold medal game four years ago, and how fans there expect their team to win every game.
“People don’t ever believe me, but you have to line up the moon and stars to win,’’ Babcock said. “People don’t always believe that in Canada, but it’s the fact. You don’t just put your country’s jersey on and win.’’
He went on to praise the U.S. team.
“They had some dangerous opportunities,’’ he said. “In the third (period) they came closer than in the rest of the game and they had some chances. I’ve played these games before, sometimes you win and sometimes you lose and it feels way better to be in my shoes. I just know it’s such a fine line. When you score one you get momentum. It’s easier playing with the lead.”
U.S. coach Dan Bylsma, who coaches the Pittsburgh Penguins, knows the Canadian players well. NHL connections run deep throughout both teams. Among Bylsma’s Penguin players are Orpik, Crosby and Canadian forward Chris Kunitz. Bylsma was not surprised at Canada’s speed, but disappointed his team couldn’t neutralize it and that they didn’t capitalize on power plays.
“We all feel disappointment with this game, maybe the disappointment was that it wasn’t for a gold medal,’’ he said. “Two great teams in the tournament, a rematch from 2010 and there’s huge disappointment for not being able to come up with a victory in this game.”
He said the pace of the game was extremely fast.
“They came at us with 20 guys tonight. They came at us with speed. They came at us for 60 minutes and that was a fast game. That was as fast of a game as I’ve ever been a part of. There was lots of speed up out there and it was up and down the ice.”
It was the 19th time the U.S. and Canada met at the Olympics. Canada leads the series with 12 wins, three losses and three ties.
As much as the loss stung, Bylsma said he expects his players to be motivated against Finland.
“We are not going home with nothing,’’ he said. “We’re going home with the bronze medal. We still have something to play for.’’