Golden guide to USA-Canada game
"Canada is like a loft apartment over a really great party." -- Robin Williams
On Thursday at noon ET, the United States women's hockey team will take on Canada in the gold-medal game in Sochi. The border rivals have battled for gold in three of the four Winter Games since women's hockey was added in 1998, with Canada taking top honors in their past two meetings.
To borrow a cliché you hear so often on NFL Sundays, these teams just flat-out don't like each other. As far as battles on ice go, this is like Brian Orser-Brian Boitano, Nancy Kerrigan-Tonya Harding, USA-Russia "Miracle on Ice" kinda-ish. This is a game you simply cannot miss.
So whether you're a die-hard fan who watched these teams get nasty -- like, line brawl nasty -- in two of their pre-Olympic "friendlies" this season, or you're a newbie drawn to the gold-medal game by patriotism, this guide is for you. You'll get a little background on who you're watching, some tips on trash-talking, and a few ways to make the game more interesting (wink, wink).
Let's start with the basics ...
Players of note
Julie Chu -- The 31-year-old forward is a four-time Olympian who already owns two silver medals and a bronze. There are 11 players on the current roster who also competed in Vancouver in 2010, but Chu is the only woman who represented the U.S. in Salt Lake City and Turin, as well. It's about time she gets to go home with the gold.
Amanda Kessel -- The 22-year-old forward helped the Minnesota Golden Gophers to back-to-back national titles in 2012 and 2013 and was named the 2013 collegiate national player of the year. The sister of Maple Leafs forward Phil Kessel, who is competing in Sochi on the men's side, Kessel is pacing the women's squad with a team-leading six points on three goals and three assists.
Kendall Coyne, Brianna Decker and Hilary Knight -- Coyne and Decker have two goals and four assists apiece in the tournament, while Knight has notched three goals and two assists in Team USA's four contests. Decker and Kessel are the only two players in the tournament with a plus-9 rating.
Hayley Wickenheiser -- The 35-year-old forward leads Team Canada with five points on two goals and three assists so far in Sochi. Wickenheiser has represented Canada on the ice in every Winter Olympics since women's hockey was added -- Nagano, Salt Lake City, Turin, Vancouver and now Sochi. She has also competed for Team Canada's softball team in the Sydney Summer Games.
Meghan Agosta-Marciano -- The 27-year-old forward scored twice in her team's 3-2 victory over Team USA in the preliminary round and has four points overall in the tournament. Agosta-Marciano already owns two gold medals from competing in the 2006 games in Turin and the 2010 games in Vancouver, where she was named the tournament's MVP.
Shannon Szabados and Charline Labonte -- Team Canada's two netminders are No. 1 and No. 2 in save percentage at these games, with marks of .972 and .951, respectively. Szabados has stopped 35 of 36 shots in her two games of work, while Labonte has turned away 39 of 41 in her two starts. Labonte got the nod against the U.S. earlier in the tournament, but Szabados is expected to start on Thursday.
Let's get a few things out of the way here. First, I've liked almost every Canadian I've ever met -- good people, those Canucks. Second, many of the players on my beloved Chicago Blackhawks hail from our neighbor to the north and I love rooting them on. Third, I really dig that maple leaf logo on the Canadian uniforms -- super sharp-looking.
But let's not let the facts get in the way of a good verbal smackdown. Come Thursday, I'm going to dislike every Canadian in sight, despise the wonderful smell of maple syrup, and consider their fake bacon/ham nonsense to be a personal affront to real bacon everywhere. Here are a few key things to remember when talking smack on Thursday, whether it be with your Canadian significant other, with friends at the bar or with strangers on the Internet.
• Canada is responsible for Justin Bieber, Nickelback, Avril Lavigne and Celine Dion. They've let them all escape the Canadian borders and don't appear willing to take them back.
• The Canadian head of state is an 87-year-old British woman who lives across the Atlantic Ocean. Sheesh, Canada, you finally manned up and earned complete independence in 1982 -- cut the cord with the queen, already.
• Stuff costs way more in Canada, regardless of the value of their dollar. Want some running shoes in Canada? That'll cost you roughly 19 percent more than a pair in the States. Got kids? Better hope for infrequent bowel movements -- diapers are up to 34 percent more expensive in Canada.
• Their mosquitos are rumored to be 3 feet in length.
• The awful polar vortex winter storms crippling half of America this year? Just an average day in Canada anytime between September and July.
• Canadians are famous for ... wait ... I'll think of something. Um, hockey?
• A Canadian team hasn't won the Stanley Cup since 1993.
Gambling, drinking and other vices
Wanna make Thursday's game a little more interesting? Follow the lead of Patrick Burke, the president of the very awesome You Can Play organization. The son of hockey royalty Brian Burke, Patrick is a die-hard fan of both men's and women's hockey. Since the start of the tournament, he's given $25 to You Can Play for every goal Knight scores for the U.S., and New York Giants assistant GM (and Canadian) Kevin Abrams has ponied up $25 every time Wickenheiser has tallied for Team Canada.
Make your own charitable bets for Thursday's games, offering up money to You Can Play (or another great organization) for every goal, point or punch to the face in the gold-medal game.
(Burke is also great with the fake bacon insults hurled at our Canadian foes. He'll keep you entertained on Twitter during the game @BurkieYCP.)
If you prefer to put your money where your mouth is (figuratively speaking), why not play a little drinking game with the Canadian folks. Every time a member of Team Canada scores, USA fans have to chug a shot glass of straight maple syrup. Every time the U.S. scores, Canada fans have to chug a full beer -- and not a good, strong Canadian beer, but some real terrible, cheap American crap.
Wanna up the ante even more? Put your patriotism on the line, Frank the Tank-style. The fans of the losing team must streak around the neighborhood chanting the other team's name. So when Team USA pulls out a big gold-medal win on Thursday, your favorite crazy Canadians will be doing a naked lap while yelling, "USA! USA! USA!"
Don't worry about them -- they're used to the cold.