ADLER, Russia — Following a game played with passion and on a night that had to churn up feelings, the most noticeable thing about Team Canada on Friday was the absence of emotion.
Maybe that’s why the Canadians were so good, so businesslike, so professional in a 1-0 victory over the U.S. in the men’s hockey semifinals of the Sochi Olympics.
They were stoically brilliant during the game, brilliantly stoic afterward. They made few mistakes in containing their fervor and even fewer in bottling up the Americans.
“We’re truly blessed to win this game,” victorious goalie Carey Price said. “There are a lot of winners in that dressing room. They all know how to play in tough situations and how to be comfortable being uncomfortable.”
Canada, attempting to defend its Olympic title from 2010, advances to play Sweden for the gold medal Sunday. The U.S. will play Finland for the bronze Saturday.
The postgame mood here was in startling contrast to the atmosphere in Vancouver four years ago, when Canada’s Sidney Crosby scored in overtime to beat the U.S., 3-2, for the gold medal.
Jonathan Toews called that one “a game for the ages.” Mike Richards, one of Toews’ teammates in that tournament, labeled it “the perfect game to play in.” Then-U.S. coach Ron Wilson said, “In Canada now, it’s the greatest game ever.”
But this one? Much more matter-of-fact, the pace of the game was considerably higher than the vibe that followed it. Of course, the Canadians knew there’s still one hurdle to clear this time.
Jamie Benn, playing on a line with the Ducks’ Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry, scored at 1:41 of the second period. Jay Bouwmeester had the lone assist, although Getzlaf’s initial pass to Benn set it up.
Asked about the score, the Dallas Stars captain said, “Oh, you know, it feels pretty good,” and that was about as dramatic as most of the Canadians sounded afterward.
The U.S. players certainly were emotional, their feelings best captured as the majority of them passed quickly through the media mixed zone without stopping to entertain questions.
One of them who did stop, defenseman Ryan Suter, was clear with his feelings.
“We didn’t show up to play,” he said. “It’s kind of frustrating. … We sat back. We were passive. You can’t play scared. I thought we sat on our heels and just didn’t take it to them at all. We had motivation. We just didn’t take it on the ice.”
The Canadians did carry most of the play, putting 16 shots on goal in the opening period alone. They outshot the Americans, 37-31, overall, but Kings goalie Jonathan Quick kept it a one-goal game.
The U.S. entered Friday as the tournament’s top-scoring team with 19 goals. But the Americans had few really good chances to beat Price.
Asked which loss to Canada was more painful — this one or the 2010 gold medal game — Suter, again, was clear.
“This one,” he said. “We didn’t show up to play and it’s just very frustrating.”
Canada now has beaten the U.S. four times in five Olympic meetings since NHL players began participating in 1998.
The Canadians also are one victory away from their third gold medal in four Olympics and are guaranteed their first medal outside North America in 20 years.
“If we were to think about that result and visualize it at the start of the day,” Price said, “we’d say ‘mission accomplished.’”
Canada’s players arrived at Bolshoy Ice Dome to find a note posted in their locker room. “Tonight is yours,” it read. And “own the moment.” And “don’t give an inch.” It was signed “The Girls.”
The note was left by Canada’s women’s team, which also beat their American counterparts in this same building for the gold medal Thursday night.
Like this one, that game was tightly contested and decided by a single goal, 3-2. But the women needed overtime. The men needed only Benn’s score, thanks to their goalie, those “Price is Right” headlines writing themselves.
“He doesn’t show a lot of emotion in the net,” Perry said. “He’s pretty quiet back there. He smothered a lot of pucks, no second chances. When you have a guy doing that it makes our job a lot easier.”
The Canadians haven’t trailed in this tournament, their active, stifling defense allowing only three goals to this point.
“This is a great game to push us into the next game,” Perry said. “They pushed us right to the end. A lot of guys did a lot of great things tonight.”
The Canadians have one more shot at greatness Sunday, at greatness and gold.