VANCOUVER (Reuters) - From the Kremlin to Ottawa’s Parliament Hill a Canada-Russia showdown was the Olympic men’s hockey dream game everyone wanted -- just not in the quarter-finals.
After a shock 5-3 loss to the United States, reeling Canadians woke up on Monday to a Super Sunday Olympic hangover and no doubt Russian hockey fans were feeling a little bit the same way after checking out the perilous road they must travel to the gold medal final.
Canada’s loss to the U.S. triggered a stunning turn of events that could see the world’s two top-ranked teams fighting for survival in a final-eight clash on Wednesday rather then battle for the last gold of the Games on February 28.
If Canada can beat winless Germany in a qualification game on Tuesday it will set up a heart-pounding quarter-final battle between hockey’s two super powers adding another page to the sport’s richest rivalry.
Certainly Team Canada will not be looking beyond Tuesday’s meeting with Germany, but hockey mad Canadians are already plotting the dangerous course through a hockey minefield that includes well-rested Russia followed by a probable meeting with reigning Olympic champions Sweden or Slovakia.
“I‘m not worried about that one (Russia) right now, we’ve got a big one tomorrow,” Canada forward Sidney Crosby told reporters.
”It’s what we expected. We knew that come this time they are must-wins no matter who we play.
”Everyone is in the same position, everyone has to win now so it doesn’t matter what you’ve done the last three games.
“Whoever is able to deal with it best is going to win.”
Some fans bet heavily on Canada making it to the finals, no matter who the opponent, with a pair of tickets to the gold medal game on offer for $50,000 on the Vancouver Games official ticket resale site.
The asking price is sure to drop if it is not the classic Russia-Canada matchup everyone from Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper to the “Great One” Wayne Gretzky is hoping for.
No athletes are under greater pressure to deliver gold in Vancouver than the 23 men wearing the Maple Leaf and that burden got a little heavier with the loss to the Americans.
“The pressure started on Canada the day the Games were awarded here, that’s how long it’s been going on,” Team USA general manager Brian Burke.
“I‘m not making that up or playing that card, that’s just the way it is. From having worked here, lived here as long as I did the pressure is tremendous.”
While Canada’s Cold War rivalry with Russia has thawed it is still something special to hockey fans from both countries when the two hockey powers come together.
The 1972 Summit Series with the Soviet won by Canada remains one of the country’s defining moments.
In much the same way Americans can recall where they were when U.S. president John F. Kennedy was assassinated, Canadians can tell you exactly where they were on September 28, 1972 when Paul Henderson scored the most famous goal in Canadian history to settle the decider 6-5.
”I was sitting in my school in Winnipeg and the school was paused to watch,“ recalled Ralph Krueger, head coach of the Swiss national team. ”It’s a moment I believe everyone who loves the game will never forget.
“It was huge for me. My love of the international game was born on that day.”
Canadians will be looking for new heroes this week as it aims at a gold medal that could rival that day in 1972.
“A nation that held its breath for nearly a month finally was able breathe again, thanks to Paul Henderson’s calm resolve at a moment of astonishing pressure,” NHL commissioner Gary Bettman told Reuters in an email. “That goal earned the eternal gratitude of millions.”
Editing by Jon Bramley.