This isn’t 1980. This isn’t Mike Eruzione vs. Vladislav Tretiak.
The Cold War between the former Soviet Union and the U.S. is over.
But don’t let the passage of time fool you. There is still something very special about Saturday morning’s 7:30 a.m. faceoff between the American men’s Olympic hockey team and Russia.
Both teams won their Olympic openers convincingly, with Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin scoring Russia’s first goal in a 5-2 win over Slovenia and Caps defenseman John Carlson netting the first goal in Team USA’s 7-1 rout of Slovakia.
So which team has more pressure heading into the biggest game of the men’s tournament to date?
“Russia, absolutely,” said Team USA and Colorado Avalanche forward Paul Stastny. “They have high expectations as it is. Hockey is probably the biggest sport in Russia and you saw how much pressure Canada had in the last Olympics.
“I think Russia has just as much. They’ve put so much money [$51 billion] into it and the expectations are so high. I think the pressure is on them.”
Several players on Team USA compared playing the Russians in their home country to playing the Canadians in Vancouver four years ago.
“I expect the fans to be just like the Canadians,” Team USA goaltender Ryan Miller said. “Very much full of pride, full of energy. It’s a great honor to have the Olympic come to your part of the world. I’m sure the people of Russia will represent well. I think it’s going to be a great hockey environment.”
The Russians and Americans adapted well to playing on the wider ice surface in their Olympic openers, but both games were expected to be lopsided. Not Saturday’s game. In fact, some predict the game to be a gold medal prequel.
“To play the Russians in the second game, I think it’s going to be a unique experience for our team,” Team USA coach Dan Bylsma said. “On foreign soil in a foreign country and playing the home team. I’m not sure there’s going to be an experience I’ve had coaching or playing that’s going to rival that.”
The winner of Saturday’s game is likely to finish first in Group A and earn a bye into the quarterfinal round. The loser will need a decisive victory in its final preliminary-round game to have a chance at the bye given to the best of the second-place finishers.
Team USA forward Dustin Brown scored the seventh goal in the Americans’ opening win over Slovakia and is looking forward to the atmosphere
“Four years ago we got to play Canada in Canada,” the Los Angeles Kings captain said. “This year we get to play Russia in Russia. Getting to play the host team, that’s always what you want. The atmosphere is going to be awesome.”
Stastny said the Americans can’t get too caught up into who they are playing and focus only on how they are playing.
“When you play in tournaments like this, the minute you start worrying about other teams you’re already at a disadvantage,” the 2010 silver medalist said. “But at the same time, there’s nothing better than being the home country on your home soil.”