The Olympic mens hockey tournament could not have come down to a better conclusion for North American hockey fans. Team USA has shown surprising consistency and ridden the phenomenal goaltending of Ryan Miller into the Gold Medal Game, while Team Canada has given us glimpses of greatness (against Germany and Russia) but remains a bit of a question mark; can all that talent gel into a cohesive team?
Game time is 2:00 p.m. Central, and it will be broadcast live on NBC. Darren Rovell, CNBC's sports business reporter, estimates an average viewership of 25 million, which should make it the most-watched game in US television history. No pressure, guys!
And the Nashville Predators boast two critical participants in the battle...
#20 / Defenseman / Nashville Predators
Jan 21, 1985
|Olympics - Ryan Suter||0||4||4
Ryan Suter has played some of his best hockey here on the world stage, getting recognition that he doesn't usually receive playing for the Predators. Team USA coach Ron Wilson puts him on the ice in all situations, and he leads the team in ice time, assists and Plus/Minus. All that, and despite playing against the world's best players, he's taken only one penalty during this tournament.
Dare I say it? Basically, Suter is playing a game much in the mold of the greatest defenseman of the last 20 years, Nicklas Lidstrom; while not quite the power play presence that Lidstrom is, Suter simply dictates the pace of a game with his calm demeanor, excellent mobility and confidence with the puck. He can break up an opponent's attack, create space for himself and move a team from defense to offense as well as anyone in the NHL.
#6 / Defenseman / Nashville Predators
Aug 14, 1985
|Olympics - Shea Weber||2||4||6||+6||2|
Shea Weber is the defenseman that every hockey fan wishes his team could draft and develop. He combines the size and strength needed to manhandle opposing forwards with the skating ability to cover huge expanses of ice, and of course boasts a slapshot that breaks bones and rips through nets with equal abandon.
In this tournament, he's played mostly alongside captain Scott Niedermayer and is 2nd on the team in ice time while leading the defense in scoring, shots, and Plus/Minus.
Team USA vs. Canada: Who will win?
This game is truly up for grabs. Ryan Miller has been the best goaltender in the tournament, and the Americans already beat Canada 5-3 last Sunday, so we certainly know they can hold their own. Since that game, however, Canada has played their best hockey, and we've seen some personnel changes (benching Patrice Bergeron, giving Brendan Morrow time on the power play) that appear to have hit on a winning combination.
Regardless of who wins (and I'm calling Team USA in a tight one), I think the words of Badger Bob Johnson fit best: "It's a great day for hockey."
And yes, I know Canada is the greatest friend that the USA has in this world (Tom Brokaw's features on NBC have been a high point of their coverage), but when they drop the puck this afternoon, it's Game On!