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The quest for GOLD

Free Press Olympic writer Ed Tait breaks down the men's hockey final

featuring Canada and the United States:

CANADA-UNITED STATES

WHEN: 2:15 p.m.

WHERE: Canada Hockey Place, Vancouver

IIHF RANKINGS: Canada - 2nd (Russia was No. 1); United States - 5th.

SCOUTING THE U.S.

HOW THEY GOT HERE: Finished first in Group A with a 3-0 record, including a 5-3 win over Canada; defeated Switzerland 2-0 in quarter-final; hammered Finland 6-1 in semifinal.

FYI: The Americans have iced the youngest team in this star-studded tournament.

KEY PLAYERS

39 RYAN MILLER, G: Without question the best player in the Olympic tournament so far. Has won all five of his starts and has a 1.04 GAA. The backbone of this squad.

28 BRIAN RAFALSKI, D: The veteran rearguard has been outstanding in his own end, but it's gifts with the puck on his stick that have never been more evident: leads the U.S. with four goals and four assists.

9 ZACH PARISE, F: Has potted two game-winning goals for the Yanks and has seven points in five games. A Canada killer in the past.

12 RYAN MALONE, F: Just love this guy's game. Gritty, tough and can score a bit. Are we sure he's not Canadian?

SCOUTING CANADA

HOW THEY GOT HERE: Finished second in Group A; defeated Germany 8-2 in qualification game; hammered Russia 7-3 in quarter-final; edged Slovakia 3-2 in the semifinal.

FYI: Goaltenders Ryan Miller and Roberto Luongo have faced each other four times in their NHL careers. Luongo has won three of the four matchups.

KEY PLAYERS

16 JONATHAN TOEWS, C: We keep gushing about the guy because he deserves it. Seven assists, a plus-9 and steady in the face-off circle.

1 ROBERTO LUONGO, G: We thought the first Slovak goal was very iffy the other night -- he called it lucky -- but his save on Pavol Demitra in the dying seconds was classic.

87 SIDNEY CROSBY, C: He's generating a ton of chances, but still waiting for him to explode. Has zero -- ZERO?! -- points in the last two games.

6 SHEA WEBER, D: Just so steady and a physical force.

3 KEYS

to a Canadian win:

1. MAKE MILLER MISERABLE: It's not rocket science here and, to a man, it was the mantra of the Canadians after their round-robin loss to the Americans in which Miller was unbelievable. Without getting traffic in front of the net and crashing for any potential rebounds, Miller can be stifling. Look for Canada's big bodies to work repeatedly to get in his line of sight.

2. TAKE NOTE: THESE GUYS ARE LICKEDY-SPLIT FAST: The Americans' collective speed was never more evident than in their first game against Canada, a contest that exposed a player like Chris Pronger. GM Brian Burke has assembled a team that is young, quick and deadly. Canada's defence may have to limit risky forays into the offensive zone and concentrate on protecting their own blueline.

3. SET AN EARLY TONE: The Americans scored 41 seconds into their first matchup and continued to counter whenever the Canadians seemed to get some momentum. There will be thousands of American fans in attendance, but the support for the Canadians can be unprecedented if they use it. A gold-medal win on home soil? Imagine the madness.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 28, 2010 A33

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