This is a big one. As the French would say, this is "uge".
Tonight in Vancouver the Canadian Men's Hockey team will face Russia in one of the biggest games in Canada's rich hockey history. I can't call it "the" biggest...after all, it is only a quarterfinal, but in terms of anticipation and potential memorability, this game is right up there with '72, '87, and 2002.
Just thinking about it as I write this gives me the chills. Canada/Russia in a win or go home game.
The same two teams also met in the 2006 Olympic quarterfinals, but that game never had the same feeling and certainly not the same intense pressure and focus that today's game does. Many Canadians felt disconnected with the Turin team because of player selections (most notably Todd Bertuzzi over Sidney Crosby) and few were shocked when we lost that quarterfinal game four years ago after scoring only 15 times and winning just three of five preliminary games. Besides, we were still satisfied with the Gold we won in 2002 and most fans shrugged the loss off without much anger or disappointment.
But this team is different. This time is different. We're on home soil and we have a fast, young, smart and talented team that was constructed beautifully by Steve Yzerman and his management team (Chris Pronger and Corey Perry aside). We've shown we can score goals, that we've got the right pieces in place, that the Russians should be just as scared of us as we are of them.
A Canada vs. Russia match-up was predicted by many analysts as the championship final but in reality that was mostly wishful thinking. How could anyone predict the two finalists in a tournament where the top three teams are all amazing, the top seven are virtually equal and every single team is genuinely frisky?
In a single game elimination tournament like this, comprised of nothing but motivated, well-coached, skilled and hard-working teams one period, one shift, even one shot can be the difference. The margin for error in this tournament is thinner than an Olsen twin.
By my calculations the combined NHL and KHL payrolls of the two teams is roughly a zillion dollars and every player on both sides is used to being on the ice at the biggest moments for their club teams. The Russians probably have a slight edge in firepower but the Canadian blueline is a little better, while goaltending is basically a toss-up.
Just like the other quarterfinal match-ups and the semifinals and final that will follow, this game will come down to the little things: face-offs, discipline, turnovers, mistakes and quite possibly, the fans.
The Canadian team has struggled in all four of their first periods in this tournament, failing to capitalize on early chances that can set the tone for a game.
You could be the difference. And by 'you' I mean the Canadian fans who have tickets to the game. The ones who will march their way to the arena hours before puck-drop, who will be dressed in red and white with faces painted, who will potentially encourage and inspire our team to victory. It will be up to you to help this team avoid another slow start, to get momentum on our side and create a winning environment for the home team.
Can we please get a 'Go Canada Go' chant started in the opening minutes? Let's show the Russians why it is our game, let's exploit what might be the only advantage either team has: home ice.