SOCHI, Russia — This is what Team USA wanted: another crack at Canada, a chance to avenge an overtime loss in the 2010 Vancouver Olympic men’s hockey final, and a chance to make this journey and story uniquely its own.
The U.S. men continued their strong offensive showing with a 5-2 victory over the Czech Republic in the Sochi quarterfinals, setting up a semifinal meeting Friday with Canada. By contrast, Canada needed a third-period goal by Shea Weber to defeat Latvia, 2-1, in its quarterfinal.
If Canada has had to squeeze past opponents to get this far, the U.S. has barged through by averaging nearly five goals a contest and has improved with each game.
“I think we were destined and on a crash course for each other. It happens to be in the semifinals instead of the finals, like Vancouver,” said center David Backes, a force all over the ice Wednesday with wingers Dustin Brown and Ryan Callahan on the newly christened Meat Line.
“I think both teams will be very excited to play each other and will need no motivation, and it’s going to be some great hockey played Friday night.”
The U.S. and Czechs were even in the first period on goals by James van Riemsdyk and Ales Hemsky when Backes set up Brown below the left circle for the go-ahead goal at 14:38. Backes scored with 1.8 seconds left in the period and Zach Parise, by the left post, gave the U.S. a 4-1 lead in the second period, which led the Czechs to pull goaltender Ondrej Pavelec and substitute Alexander Salak.
Backes, who said he’s the beef, Brown is the pork and Callahan is the chicken on their Meat Line, said Team USA’s robust scoring shouldn’t be a shock. “There’s a lot of talented guys on this team and I’m on it too,” he said. “It seems to be a great balance and we’ve got guys willing to do the dirty work.”
U.S. goalie Jonathan Quick stopped 21 shots to do his part to set up the U.S.-Canada rematch.
“You kind of expected them,” Quick said. “From what I saw it was a close game. You’ve got to tip your cap to Latvia for hanging in there and playing them tough. They’ve got a good team. They’ve got a lot of skill. They’ve got speed. Great goaltender, great defensemen.
“You make it to the semifinals, you expect to play these kinds of teams. So it’s nothing that we weren’t expecting. We definitely have a lot of preparing to do to be as ready as we can.”
The U.S. won’t get a rematch with Russia, which it had defeated in an eight-round shootout in the preliminary round, because Russia lost its quarterfinal match to Finland, 3-1, earlier Wednesday. The prospect of not having to contend with Ilya Kovalchuk, Alexander Ovechkin or Evgeni Malkin again in front of Russian fans was fine with Parise, who remembered the challenge of playing host Canada in front of a hostile crowd in Vancouver in 2010.
“When you do have that home crowd, that home atmosphere, it always makes for an exciting game,” Parise said. “But when guys like Kovalchuk and Ovechkin and Malkin aren’t in the tournament anymore, it’s pretty nice.”
An added attraction to this semifinal is that it will pit NHL teammates against each other, among them Brown and Quick of the Los Angeles Kings against Drew Doughty and Jeff Carter, U.S. winger Patrick Kane of the Chicago Blackhawks against Duncan Keith, Patrick Sharp and Jonathan Toews, and U.S. defenseman Cam Fowler of the Anaheim Ducks against Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf. U.S. coach Dan Bylsma will try to beat Sidney Crosby, his franchise player with the Pittsburgh Penguins.
It’s what they wished for, and now they’ll get it.
“It’s what it’s all about, Canada-USA,” Toews said. “It’s become even a bigger rivalry than Canada-Russia. There’s a lot of animosity, a lot of feelings like there’s something to prove between both teams.
“It’s for the chance to go and play for a gold medal. It doesn’t get any better than that, playing for your country and going against the United States. There are millions of kids that grow up dreaming of this situation. We have a chance of making a dream come true.”