VANCOUVER (Reuters) - Russia got their gold medal plans back on track while Canada swerved off course with a shock loss to the U.S. that sent a shudder rumbling across the Great White North on Olympic ice hockey’s Super Sunday.
For hockey-mad Canadians, who have been dreaming about hockey gold since the day Vancouver was selected to host the 2010 Winter Games, a 5-3 loss to the young Americans was a sobering if not fatal wake-up call.
While Russia, the United States, Finland and Olympic champions Sweden all move directly to the quarter-finals, Canada will now have to take the long road to the gold medal contest and play a sudden death qualification game on Tuesday against Germany to earn a place in the last eight.
Before Canada sputtered, Russia’s Big Red Machine was picking up speed again after a defeat to Slovakia by beating the Czech Republic 4-2 in a rematch of the 1998 Nagano gold medal final to grab top spot in Group B.
Sweden, who beat Finland to take the Olympic crown in Turin four years ago, showed they have lost none of their golden touch either, cruising past their Nordic rivals 3-0 to notch a third straight win to top Group C.
Despite suffering their first loss of the preliminary round, the Finns will follow the Swedes directly into the last eight having posted the best second-place record.
”Everything is ahead, now the tournament starts,“ said Finnish forward Teemu Selanne, the Olympics’ all-time leading scorer. ”There are no easy games.
“The only good thing is that it is in our own hands. We can control our own destiny.”
Brilliant blue skies and Spring-like conditions made it a prefect day to be outside soaking up the Games atmosphere but the place still to be was inside Canada Hockey Place for a spectacular ice hockey hat-trick featuring the world’s six top ranked teams clashing in three of the international game’s most mouth-watering rivalries.
After Canada failed to add to their Games gold medal total on the second weekend of Olympic competition, the hosts looked to their men’s hockey team for a lift.
But the U.S. turned Olympic Super Sunday into Somber Sunday for Canada as they jumped out to a 1-0 lead after just 41 seconds and never trailed to secure top spot in Group A along with cross-border bragging rights.
“We’re just like every team in the tournament now and we’re all trying to survive because if you lose you go home,” Canada coach Mike Babcock told reporters. “We understand what we’re up against and we’ll just start preparing for the next game.”
It might be hard for Canada not to look beyond Tuesday’s contest with an even larger hurdle looming on the horizon.
If Canada can get past the Germany it will set up a mouth-watering quarter-final showdown with Russia that will see one of the two favorites for gold crash out even before reaching the medal round.
The three other qualification games will see Switzerland face off against Belarus, Czech Republic take on Latvia and Slovakia against Norway.
Editing by Jon Bramley