U.S. Hockey Teams Dominate Vancouver Games

U.S. hockey has been a dominating force at the Vancouver games. The men's team upset Canada earlier this week, forcing the home team to compete for a spot in the quarterfinals. Meanwhile, the women have blown apart their competition thus far, giving up only two goals versus the 40 they have scored.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

And now, we don't want to jinx anything here, but American hockey is on a roll at the Winter Olympics. The men had that impressive win over Canada, and they're on to the quarter finals. The women are headed into their gold medal game on Thursday. Their opponent: the Canadian women.

From Vancouver, NPR's Tom Goldman and Howard Berkes join us now. Welcome, guys.

HOWARD BERKES: Thank you.

TOM GOLDMAN: Hello there.

SIEGEL: And Howard, let's start with you. The American women have been dominating their opponents, but so have the Canadian women. What can we expect on Thursday?

BERKES: It's going to be a battle. You have both these teams. Each team has only allowed two goals in the entire tournament, the opponents they've played. They're both undefeated in the tournament, they were playing in different brackets until now.

And the U.S. has outscored its opponents 40 to two. Canada has outscored its opponents 46 to two. But there is one big difference that is worth noting here, which is in pre-Olympic competition, Canada has dominated. They've beaten the U.S. in seven out of 10 games, and all this is kind of a reverse of what was going on in 2002 in Salt Lake City.

The U.S. was dominant there. They had eight straight wins over Canada going into the Olympics, 35 straight wins in Olympic Games. It was the home ice for the Americans. Now it's the home ice for the Canadians, they've been dominant, and all the pressure is on them.

The Canadian men lost. It's the home ice for the Canadians. They've got to win this game. The Americans like the position they're in of kind of being the underdog going into the game.

SIEGEL: How different is the women's game from the men's hockey game?

BERKES: There are really only two significant differences. One, the women wear a full face mask. The men, they have their choice of doing that. And there's no checking permitted in the women's game. It's still pretty physical, but they're not allowed to check. That would bring a penalty.

SIEGEL: Tom Goldman, let's talk about the American men. They're playing well, but their tournament has just started. Is it too early to hope?

GOLDMAN: Oh, never too early to hope, of course. They're in the quarter finals, and they play Wednesday against either Switzerland or Belarus. They are undefeated. They're an exciting young team, the youngest in the tournament.

We all thought they were playing well, but team general manager Brian Burke doesn't think so. He said the win over Canada was a sham. The Americans turned the puck over too much. They had to rely on goaltender Ryan Miller to bail them out over and over, which he did. He had a fabulous game. He saved 42 of 45 shots by the Canadians.

Obviously, Burke would like to see Miller not work so hard and the rest of the team play better.

SIEGEL: And Canada's men's team, they're now playing to stay alive. I understand that's not a place that they thought they'd be.

GOLDMAN: Well, everyone in Canada thought they'd be cruising toward the gold medal game, but they put themselves in a hole because of that loss to the U.S., and now Canada has to play a qualifying game against Germany to get to the quarter finals.

Canada has replaced its star goaltender, Martin Brodeur. He's been too porous during the Olympics. Now, if Canada beats Germany, that sets up a quarter-final showdown that everyone was expecting for the gold medal game, and that would be against Russia. That would match traditional hockey superpowers; it'll match the transcendent stars of the NHL, Canadian Sidney Crosby against Russian Alex Ovechkin.

And not that the game needs extra spice, Robert, but the Russian newspaper Pravda is providing that. It blasted the host country in a column, saying, quote, "the utter incapacity of Canada to host a major international event due to its inferiority complex born of a trauma, being the skinny and weakling brother to a beefy United States and a colonial outpost to United Kingdom."

Now, it sounds to me like someone's still cranky about losing the men's figure skating gold medal and being way back in the overall medals race.

SIEGEL: And someone really knows how to rub it in. Thanks, guys. NPR's Tom Goldman and Howard Berkes in Vancouver.

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