BROSSARD – After Thursday’s practice, Michel Therrien and a few of his players weighed in on the epic on-ice battles about to unfold in Sochi.
While Carey Price and P.K. Subban will be pitted against Montreal teammate Max Pacioretty in the pivotal Canada-USA semi-final game on Friday, Canadiens head coach Michel Therrien is not feeling conflicted about which team to cheer for.
“Canada all the way,” he offered. “In these situations, I’m just a fan. And I hope that Canada will win.”
For his part, captain Brian Gionta is similarly committed to getting behind his country of birth.
“It’s USA,” he stated with confidence when asked about his pick. The choice is logical for Gionta, who was born in Rochester, New York and represented his country at the 2006 Olympics in Torino.
“They look good as a team. They’ve found a way to come together despite the tournament being so short. Having the right mixture of guys is key, and the single-elimination format is tough,” said the right-winger, who had four goals in six games in Italy. “Both teams are playing on the biggest stage, which is something that you dream of as a kid. It’ll definitely be an intense game. The US hasn’t won gold since 1980 and winning a gold medal would definitely help the development game in any country, whether it’s men’s hockey or women’s hockey.”
The choice is not so clear-cut for two other Habs: Francis Bouillon and Daniel Briere. Bouillon was born in New York City and represents the US internationally, but grew up in a Francophone household in Montreal. Meanwhile, Daniel Briere has played most of his professional career south of the border and claims that his American-born sons are some of the most vocal Team USA supporters around.
“There was a lot of animosity in the house four years ago, when Canada beat the US in the gold medal game,” confessed Briere. “But of course this just makes it more fun.”
“The Americans have probably been the best team in the tournament so far. They’ve scored the most goals and seem to have found a way to attack effectively from the inside. It’ll be an interesting challenge for Canada, but anything can happen,” added the Gatineau, Quebec native.
The epic Canada-USA match-up is just one of the two blockbuster semi-finals scheduled in Sochi. On the other half of the draw, the Swedes are preparing to take on their eternal rivals, the Finns. Much like Canadians and Americans, the many similarities between the neighbours only serve to magnify their differences and add to the ill will on the ice.
“It’s a big rivalry that goes way back. Hopefully the good guys win!” opined Douglas Murray, who suited up for Team Sweden in the 2010 Vancouver Winter Games. Still, he made sure to give plenty of credit to the Finns, who have performed well despite missing several of their forwards due to injury. “The Finnish team has been very impressive. They might not have as many big names on the roster, but they are playing well and have some of the best goalies around.”
Murray also talked about the challenges for NHLers to quickly adjust to the larger Olympic ice surface.
“Playing on a big ice is definitely an adjustment. During the 2004 lockout I went back and played on the big ice for the first time since I was 17, and it took me at least three or four games to figure things out. As a defenseman you can’t be nearly as aggressive,” related the Swedish blueliner.
No matter how the rest of the Games go for the Canadiens contingent in Sochi, one thing is for sure: there will be plenty of trash-talking from invested parties and maybe even a token sum of money exchanging hands following the semi-finals.
“I haven’t made any bets with the guys on the team yet, but I’m trying to find some takers,” said Gionta.