Scanlan: Border war of words for Canadian, U.S. hockey Senators

At a time like this, hockey players become hockey fans.

Scanlan: Border war of words for Canadian, U.S. hockey Senators
Goalie Craig Anderson squints as he steps on the ice as the Ottawa Senators practice on an outdoor rink at Jules Morin Park on York St. (Photo by Wayne Cuddington/ Ottawa Citizen)

At a time like this, hockey players become hockey fans.

When Canada meets the USA in an Olympic semifinal Friday, NHL players who aren’t on the ice in that game will be watching. The Ottawa Senators are no exception.

After they practiced on the outdoor ice at Jules Morin Park on Thursday, several Senators spoke enthusiastically about viewing Olympic events –led, of course, by the Sochi hockey tournament.

The women showed how it’s done.

With a fourth consecutive Canadian women’s hockey gold medal in the books, off a spectacular overtime victory over the USA, Sidney Crosby and friends have a tough act to follow.

The men’s tournament draws to its own dramatic conclusion, beginning with Friday’s semifinals as the Swedes meet their rivals from Finland in the other matchup.

Forward Mika Zibanejad of Sweden likes his nation’s chances to make the final, especially with Senators teammate Erik Karlsson and ex-Sens captain Daniel Alfredsson working their magic for the Swedes.

“They’ve still got it,” said a smiling Zibanejad, of the Karlsson-Alfredsson connection that has helped carry Sweden this far.

Most of the talk, of course, is focused on USA-Canada, a rematch of the 2010 gold medal game won by the Canadians on Sidney Crosby’s overtime goal.

WAGERS AT STAKE

Winger Erik Condra of Trenton, Michigan, believes his boys can exact revenge.

“Being American, I’m thinking the U.S. is going to take it,” Condra said. “The U.S. looks really good. They’ve been playing real solid the whole tournament, Canada’s been up and down but I’m sure they’ll bring their ‘A’ game and they’ve got a lineup full of studs, so it’ll be a good game.”

As always, money, beer and – Justin Bieber? – will be changing hands with this continental clash. Senators defenceman Marc Methot, who attended Canada’s orientation camp last summer, was among those who heard about the proposed wager, “the loser keeps Bieber.”

“It’s great,” Methot says, of the pre-game hype. “It brings people together . . . the rivalry is almost unparalleled in hockey.”

According to Methot, it wasn’t much fun having the Americans in the Senators room while Latvia was putting a scare into the Canadians in quarterfinal action. The U.S. contingent includes Condra, Bobby Ryan, Craig Anderson and Joe Corvo. But Methot terms it a “friendly” situation.

Clearly, it includes “friendly” wagers.

“Hopefully, the U.S. wins, so I will be paid up,” Condra said.

Having experienced NCAA tournament hockey, Condra understands better than most how it was that Canada was pushed to the limit by tiny Latvia, finally winning 2-1 in what was supposed to be a routine quarterfinal for the Canadians.

“I’ve been victim of that a couple of times when I played at Notre Dame,” Condra said, “you’re playing a team that’s 16th ranked and you’re first, and it’s a one-game crap shoot – you never know what’s going to happen.

“It’s what the Olympics are all about,” Condra said, “teams like that giving the giants, the teams that should win, a run for it.”

After Canada’s tight matches against trapping European teams on the big ice, Senators captain Jason Spezza expects “more of a North American style game” on Friday.

“I know the U.S. has had more success scoring but I imagine both teams are comfortable playing each other, kind of knowing the players on the other team and knowing what you’re going to get,” Spezza said.

When the Canadian women were down 2-0 late in their gold-medal match with the Americans, they made the clutch push to tie it before winning a wild overtime period. Will the men’s game will be as close, or as crazy?

Anderson, the Senators goaltender who was on the radar of American selectors after a brilliant 2012-13 season for Ottawa, doesn’t think there’s much to separate the Canadians and Americans.

“If they played a best-of-seven series, with those two teams, it’s probably going to go seven games,” Anderson said. “That’s just kind of the nature of the way the teams are, the way they’re built, the quality of players that are on the teams.”

In deference to the game, airing at noon EST, the Senators will hold a 10 a.m. practice, freeing players to watch the semifinal.

“It’s going to be awesome. I think it’s going to be a great game to watch,” Methot said. “I hope everyone else is watching it, too. . . as far as I’m concerned the game is up for grabs.”

NO TIPS FOR BABCOCK
Senators head coach Paul MacLean worked for Canadian head coach Mike Babcock with the Detroit Red Wings, but isn’t about to offer any free advice prior to the big game.

“No, he’s getting lots of help, and I understand that totally,” MacLean said. “Mike’s been there before and he knows what he’s doing.”

Nor is MacLean buying into this fretting over Canada’s goal production in Sochi.
“Not at all,” MacLean said. “They’re 4-0, they’re playing in the semifinal and all they have to do is win.”

Yes, that’s all.

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