SOCHI, RUSSIA – Zach Parise never found the time or inspiration, or maybe even the need, to watch the 2010 Olympic gold medal game. He still carried those memories in his mind and soul.
But there it was, suddenly on his TV screen, and the emotions rushed back like a cresting wave. Lounging at home one day in January as he recovered from a foot injury that forced him to miss 14 games for the Wild, Parise started channel surfing until he came across a replay of the U.S.-Canada championship classic in Vancouver.
He swears that, in the four years since, he’d never even seen parts of that game. He started watching it in the second period that day. His goose bumps arrived shortly thereafter.
“I had some flashbacks,” he said.
Parise remembered the euphoria he felt after scoring a game-tying goal with just 24.4 seconds left in regulation. He recalled the surge of excitement inside Team USA’s locker room during intermission before overtime, the belief that they had a chance to win gold on Canada’s turf.
And, of course, he relived the heartbreak that came when Sidney Crosby became a certified national treasure with his overtime goal that delivered a gold medal to Canada.
“It was a special game, a great game to be a part of, a lot of fun,” Parise said. “But at the same time, you can’t think about how fun the game was without thinking of how disappointing the end was. They go together.”
And now for the encore, though a gold medal isn’t at stake in Friday’s rematch, only the opportunity to play for it. The fact that Team USA and Canada meet in the semifinals of the Olympic tournament this time hardly dampens the anticipation.
These two teams could play a pickup game in Moose Jaw in July and it’d feel like compelling theater.
“It’s such a great rivalry, whether the teams play each other in the gold medal game or the preliminary round,” Parise said.
“The two teams bring out the best in each other. It makes for a great game on television back home for the fans. From a player’s standpoint, there’s always something special when it’s U.S.-Canada game.”
Both teams arrived in Sochi as gold medal contenders, their rosters stocked with NHL stars. If the U.S.-Russia game earlier in the tournament provided proof for why the NHL should continue to participate in the Olympics, the level of high-end skill that Team USA and Canada will roll out on the ice should put an exclamation point on that argument.
This should be as good as hockey gets in terms of talent, passion and intensity.
“It’s two teams that love beating each other,” Parise said.
David Backes learned that truism at an early age. The Spring Lake Park product gained an appreciation for the rivalry when his youth teams traveled to tournaments in Canada.
“Being from Minnesota, we had the same sort of winters where you’re out on the frozen pond or outdoor rink, having fun with your buddies,” he said. “A group of kids just north of the border are doing the same thing.”
Those boys are men now. They’ve all reached the pinnacle of their profession and become wealthy in the process. A few of them are even NHL teammates. The foundation for that rivalry remains unchanged, though. It’s just two teams that love to beat each other.
“We’re going to lay everything that we have into that game,” Backes said.
Backes played a supporting role on the U.S. team in 2010. Now, he’s a leader. The powerful swings of emotion in that championship game four years ago remain “vivid” to this day.
“There’s scorn and there’s a little spite afterward,” he said. “In retrospect months later, you put it in perspective and say, ‘Hey, I got a silver medal and we were part of an amazing team that played in one of the best hockey games ever played.’ ”
That game will be tough to duplicate. They’re not playing for gold this time. But it’s U.S.-Canada in the Olympic tournament. That alone makes it a special occasion.
Chip Scoggins firstname.lastname@example.org