The qualification round of the Olympics men’s hockey tournament has arrived, which means it’s time to lay down some serious boundaries in your life. Team USA or Team Canada, who you got?
To bring everyone up to speed on this rivalry: Team Canada beat Team USA for gold in Vancouver four years ago, so, basically, Team USA has had four years to plot its sweet revenge. Possible problem: Canada has this guy. And this guy. And this guy. And this guy. And this guy, and well you get the idea. The U.S. started this year’s tournament by straight-up embarrassing Slovakia (sorry we’re not sorry, Slovakia), then Oshie’d Russia and stomped Slovenia. Canada dismissed Norway, then dominated Austria and beat Finland in overtime. If both the U.S. and Canada continue to advance, they’ll meet in the semis later this week.
Don’t know much about hockey and/or your neighbors to the north? (Or south. Whatever.) No worries. Grantland writer Sean McIndoe, who is an O Canadian, and editor Sarah Larimer, who is not, are here to walk you through the 2014 Border War.
by Sarah Larimer
Buckle up, patriots. This year’s Team USA is a delightful mix of American toughness and the American creative spirit. Hard to see how we could lose here, because the state of our union is Hulk-level strong. Are you ready for this, USA? Trick question. Of course you are; Americans are ready for anything.
So let’s get amped for the next round of this tournament by celebrating some good American boys, who are about to steal your hearts and Canada’s national pride. Do you believe in miracles? YES.
Hometown: Natick, Massachusetts
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Liberty and John Carlson for All, Represented in Song:
Oh, that? That’s just Shaq conducting the Boston Pops. NBD. Just a couple of American Originals, jamming to that one song about winter outdoor leisure activities. I figured John Carlson would love it, because he’s a cool American.
When Carlson was selected to the U.S. national team, he did his interview in front of the White House. When Carlson met Secretary of State John Kerry, they fist-bumped. Carlson plays hockey in our nation’s capital, so I bet he visits the Hirshhorn on the regs. It’s free after all, because in this country, we celebrate art.
Hometown: Buffalo, New York
Position: Right Wing
The two best players on the Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks are a guy whose real-life nickname is Captain Serious and the world’s biggest bro. No shots to J. Toews — who, with his “relaxed” face and general inability to just be cool, is probably my NHL analog — but which one do you want on your national team? That’s what I thought. So screw it. Let’s just go have some fun out there, because Patrick Kane’s our dude.
Also, wow, bonus: This Kane highlight video is unironically set to “All of the Lights,” which … OK. Thanks for being super, Internet.
COP LIGHTS FLASHLIGHTS SPOTLIGHTS STROBE LIGHTS STREETLIGHTS. (I didn’t make this.)
This ad took about 20 minutes to shoot, btw, and it wasn’t even supposed to be that hard, but then Kane was like “I’d like all the pucks, please,” and totally crushed it.
Liberty and Patrick Kane for All, Represented in Song:
Come on. You know why.
Hometown: Minneapolis, Minnesota
Good news, Sochi dogs; noted animal lover David Backes is here. Maybe the Blues’ captain will fly you back on his plane. Maybe he’ll tweet your picture and help find you a home. Who knows. That’s just the kind of American he is. He cares about all creatures, great and small. Oh, right, also, he’s good at hockey:
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There are certainly more David Backes highlight clips out there, but because we’re saluting #USABEST today, here’s a very special video of Backes going full Top Gun in 2012. Spoiler alert: He totally ralphs at the end.
Important David Backes Sidenote: Backes is NHL teammates, Sochi roommates, and good pals with T.J. Oshie, whom you probably now know as the guy who just Rocky IV’ed Team Russia in a shootout this weekend. I’m assuming you spent your Saturday Googling “Who is T.J. Oshie” and/or changing his Wikipedia page, but if not, I’ll fill you in.
T.J. Oshie is a king (of the Frosty Festival). He is the guy who taught Jonathan Toews how to get out there and live life. He bears a striking resemblance to the favorite hockey player of your youth, Charlie Conway. His pictures are like a kick-ass, modern-day version American Gothic. He made hockey people like the shootout, which is a miracle in and of itself. If you’re wondering if he’s always so clever in those types of situations, the answer is yes:
If Oshie’s display on international ice made you want to follow him in the NHL, then you’re in luck, because his Blues are Cup contenders this year, so it’s a pretty cool time to be a St. Louis fan. Here’s Oshie with Blues defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk, talking about his Team USA selection:
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How long do you think it took Oshie to figure out the alphabetical order thing? You know what, never mind. Don’t care. Especially after seeing this quote:
Just a heads up, citizens: T.J. Oshie can run for president in a mere eight years.
Anyway, back to Backes …
Liberty and David Backes for All, Represented in Song:
Like I said, Backes plays for St. Louis, located in America’s heartland. Shout-out to you, David, because America’s heartland is dope. Nelly’s from there. I’m from there. We’re all family in the Midwest. Come by for some casserole anytime.
Hometown: East Lansing, Michigan
Ryan Miller was in goal for the U.S. during the 2010 Games, and was outstanding. He stopped 17 shots in the U.S.’s 5-1 win over Slovenia on Sunday, though he was on the bench to back up Jonathan Quick for Team USA’s first few games. But that’s cool; I’m on record as being extremely pro-backup goaltenders.
You should definitely check out Miller’s highlights from his 2010 MVP performance on YouTube, but here is his most American-y video, a personal favorite and an all-time classic: a clip in which Ryan Miller calls Milan Lucic a piece of shit:
Ryan Miller, everyone. The gold medalist of hurling insults. I feel like the ability to lay down a proper “Hey man, why don’t you go [bleep] yourself” is uniquely American, right? So shine on, Ryan Miller. America loves you.
Liberty and Ryan Miller for All, Represented in
Will America’s First Lady Dougie if we win gold? Stay tuned to find out!
Hometown: Madison, Wisconsin
Position: Right Wing
BOOM, Canada, thanks for playing, but I think we’re pretty much done here. Does everyone have their Kessel-approved beanie on? Good. Now let’s all get some Mountain Berry Blast and drink up.
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Here’s the deal with Phil Kessel, supreme conqueror of Powerade and also Slovenia: He might be a nutbar, but he’s our nutbar, and that means we’re chill. Kessel can do stuff like this every day of his life and I would continue to not care, because he also does stuff like this:
Currently, Kessel in the midst of a personal quest for worldwide domination … and he’s succeeding. Come on. How can you not dance around your apartment when a guy who looks like your Gumby’s delivery dude becomes a national hero? It’s so magical. It’s so American.
WHOAA-OH-WHOA WHOAA-OH-WHOA-OH. (I didn’t make this, either.) Anyway. Carve Phil Kessel’s face into a mountain. Specifically, carve the face pictured above.
Liberty and Phil Kessel for All, Represented in Song:
Yep. I picked some good old American kidnapping music for Phil Kessel, in a clip that features two of this country’s greatest treasures, Bert and Ernie; don’t ask me to explain myself, it just felt right.
Let freedom ring, guys.
by Sean McIndoe
Aw, look at your Americans getting all feisty about hockey. That is adorable!
Yes, you finished ahead of Canada in the round-robin. Yes, you did it on the strength of winning one of the most exciting games of the tournament, beating the host Russians in a dramatic shootout. Yes, all signs point toward a U.S.-Canada showdown in the semifinals Friday.
But let’s be clear. This is just about hockey. That’s it. It’s a game. Let’s not make it any bigger than it is. This isn’t about which country is better, or whose population is superior, or whose way of life should serve as a model for the rest of the world.
But while Canada is the better country, that doesn’t mean we’d automatically beat the U.S. with a trip to the gold-medal game on the line. (It does.) There’d still be a game to play, and in hockey, anything can happen. I mean, sure, even your own White House admits that every win by Team USA is a miracle. But that’s the beauty of hockey. Sometimes the fifth-best team wins.
So now that Sarah has been kind enough to introduce us to five key elements of the American team, let’s get acquainted with five important pieces of the Canadian roster.
Hometown: London, Ontario
Two things you need to know about Drew Doughty. First of all, you look more like an NHL player than he does. I don’t even know what you look like, but I feel pretty confident saying that.
Second, and more importantly: He’s awesome.
He’s a defenseman who can do everything you’d want a defenseman to do. Hit, defend, make the first pass, make the smart clear. All of it. And, as Finland found out Sunday, he can score.
In fact, Doughty and his L.A. teammate Jeff Carter are doing most of Canada’s scoring so far, even though they play for an NHL team that never scores. They’re developing reputations as Canada’s unlikely offensive heroes. (That is, of course, in addition to their already established reputation as the L.A. Olympians who don’t blatantly cheat and knock the net off whenever they’re about to get scored on.)
Drew Doughty (and Jeff Carter), Represented in Song
Hometown: Winnipeg, Manitoba
Hey, can we talk some more about T.J. Oshie? Man, that was incredible. To be the go-to guy in a critical international shootout, taking turn after turn while an entire nation cheers you on, and then dramatically winning the whole damn thing almost single-handedly in the end. What a great story that was.
I mean, it was better when Jonathan Toews did it seven years ago. You know, back when he was a teenager. But you go ahead and steal your inspiration from wherever you can, America.
(That’s Carey Price in net there if you need him, by the way. He sure seems to enjoy beating the Americans in the semifinal round. A guy could probably get used to that.)
When he’s not having his dramatic moments plagiarized Shia LaBeouf–style by Oshie, Toews is also capable of … well, anything. He can literally do anything.
Win the Conn Smythe as playoff MVP at age 22? Check.
Become the youngest-ever member of the Triple Gold Club? Check.
Win the Selke as best defensive forward? Of course.
Do a Stanley Cup victory dance on the Bruins’ center ice logo? Yep.
Make this face? Yes.
Explain the rules of curling to an incredibly bored Jeff Carter? Apparently.
Show actual human emotion? Unknown. Never been attempted. Human emotion is for the weak.
Jonathan Toews, Represented in Song
Hometown: Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia
Sidney Crosby is the best hockey player in the world. If and when he eventually arrives in Sochi, you guys are screwed.
Sidney Crosby, Represented in Song (Current Edition):
Sidney Crosby, Represented in Song (This Time Next Week Edition):
P.K. Subban and Martin St. Louis (tie)
Yes, that’s right, a tie. Can you handle that, American hockey fans, or are you going to force us to introduce some stupid skills competition just so you can get closure?
Subban is the reigning Norris Trophy winner as the NHL’s best defenseman. St. Louis is the reigning Art Ross winner as the NHL’s leading scorer. They’re both on the team. Pretty impressive, right?
You’d think so, but you may not have noticed them much against Finland, because neither guy played. Yeah. That’s how stacked Team Canada is: The NHL’s best defenseman and top scorer can’t even crack the lineup.
St. Louis didn’t even make the team originally, and Subban almost didn’t, but they’re both there now. That’s more than you can say for Claude Giroux, or Joe Thornton, or James Neal, or any number of other Canadian players who were left behind even though they’d probably play on Team USA’s first line.
Remember that, America, on the off chance you do fluke your way to a win this week. Canada is here to produce elite hockey players and chew poutine, and we’re all out of poutine.
Martin St. Louis, Represented in Song:
P.K. Subban, Represented in Song:
(OK, fine, I just did that to piss off the Habs fans. Ha-ha … just a little good-natured ribbing between traditional rivals, I’m sure we can all OH GOD MY CAR IS ON FIRE.)
Madison, Wisconsin Toronto, Ontario
Right Wing Wherever he damn well pleases
In her section, Sarah makes it sound like Kessel is some sort of unstoppable hockey force. A prototype of the ideal hockey player. Some sort of real-life superhero, able to post effortless four-point nights while sprinting out to carry orphans out of a burning building in between shifts.
And he is. All of that is accurate. Nobody in Canada disputes this.
But here’s the important part … we made him that way. You Americans had him for almost 22 years, and what did you do with him? You watched him become the all-time goals and points leader for the U.S. National Development Team and lead the 2006 World Juniors in scoring, then acted like it was his fault when you finished fourth. You sent him to the University of Minnesota, where he kept on racking up points, but you didn’t notice because you were too busy worrying about whether Jack Johnson thought he was a dirtbag. You let him get drafted by Boston, where his teammates mocked him and picked on him and decided they had to fix him.
And along the way he got cancer during his rookie season and beat it while only missing a month of games. But so what … he was awkward and quiet and maybe a little on the pudgy side, so he had to go. You practically ran him out of the country.
So we took him off your hands. We granted him asylum. We brought him to the pressure cooker known as the center of the hockey universe and we literally slapped a Maple Leaf on his chest. And now, four years later, he’s emerged as one of the very best players in the world. Hell, we even made sure he never got to play with a half-decent center, just to give him an added degree of difficulty. Putting him with Joe Pavelski now is like watching a slugger bang the weight off his bat as he steps out of the on-deck circle.
And now, after all that, after you mocked him every time he returned to Boston, now you want to welcome him back? Now he’s an American hero? We don’t even get a thank-you card from you ingrates?
Phil Kessel, Represented in Song
#kesselbest? Yeah, welcome to four years ago. Phil Kessel was born in the USA. But Phil Kessel — hockey superstar, crowd favorite, and your only hope of getting out of Sochi with a medal — that Phil Kessel is a Canadian creation. Never forget that, America.